While many laws make it illegal to take someone else’s possessions without their express permission, California Penal Code Section 496(a) also makes it a crime to buy, receive, sell, hide or withhold property that you know is stolen.
Under California law, possession of stolen property is a “wobbler” offense, which means it can either be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the property’s value, the circumstances of your unique case and your criminal history. The maximum sentence is up to three years in jail. However, with experienced legal representation, you can receive an acquittal or dismissal. Here’s what you need to know if you’re facing stolen property charges.
What Constitutes Stolen Property?
To convict someone of stolen property charges, a prosecutor must prove each of these separate legal elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You purchased, received, sold, concealed or withheld property that was stolen from someone.
- You knew someone stole the property at the time you obtained it.
- You were aware the property was in your possession – for example, nobody discreetly put it in your pocket or purse.
Naivety is one of the most common defenses in stolen property cases. However, sometimes, the circumstances surrounding the purchase might lead a judge or jury to conclude that you were aware of the property’s dubious legal status, even if nobody told you directly. For example, if you bought a cellphone from someone in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant, it’s reasonable to suspect that transaction might not have been aboveboard.
Due Diligence for Business Owners
If your livelihood depends on buying, selling and trading used property, you may be subject to stricter liability laws surrounding stolen property than the average citizen. For instance, California Business and Professions Code Section 21628 requires business owners like pawnbrokers, antique dealers and secondhand store proprietors to adhere to strict reporting requirements. If not, they can be criminally liable.
Failing to report detailed logs of all items your shop receives – including descriptions and serial numbers – on the appropriate forms might cause you to face stolen property charges.
Defending Yourself Against Stolen Property Charges
Aside from claiming you had no idea you had stolen property in your possession – which, as we mentioned earlier, may not hold up under examination – here are some defenses a knowledgeable attorney might help you put together.
- Innocent intent: This argument could apply if you knew the property was stolen, but you intended to return it to its rightful owner or report it to the police immediately after obtaining it.
- Lack of legal possession: This defense might be applicable if you did not realize the property was in your custody – for example, someone else hid a stolen item in your home without telling you.
- Intoxication: Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs is only a viable excuse if your impaired state of mind prevented you from fully appreciating your actions’ nature and consequences.
- Theft charge: If the prosecutor has already charged you with theft for stealing something, they cannot also charge you with receiving stolen property for the same item.
Orange County’s Leading Criminal Defense Attorney
For more than four decades, Ronald G. Brower has been successfully defending clients and earning accolades. He and his team have obtained outstanding results for people charged with a wide variety of misdemeanors and felonies. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.