Although most people are familiar with the old adage that “it’s too good to be true,” it’s often difficult to turn down an opportunity to receive goods at a highly discounted price. However, what may seem like a bargain that is too good to pass up may become a costly transaction if the merchandise turns out to be stolen. The substantial growth in discount sales and swap meets both on the Internet and on the street has increased the likelihood that consumers may unwittingly buy stolen property.

In my years as a Southern California prosecutor, I developed a fundamental understanding of the inherent weaknesses and opportunities for constructive plea negotiations. As a defense attorney, I now use this on behalf of my clients. I offer intensive investigation, rigorous cross-examination of witnesses, thorough analysis of law enforcement investigations, effective pre-trial motions and persuasive advocacy in court.

Below is what you need to know about this crime. If you have any questions, I invite you to contact mefor a free case evaluation.

What the Law Says

Under California Penal Code Section 496, the crime of receiving stolen property involves “receiving, buying, selling or concealing” property that you know to be stolen.

Because the crime specifically requires that you actually know the property is stolen, avoid speaking with the police under any circumstances. One of the easiest ways for the police to establish that you knew property was stolen is by using incriminating statements and admissions you make during an interrogation. You have the absolute constitutional right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment and to have a criminal defense attorney present during any custodial interview.

I’ve handled thousands of police interviews and interrogations and, if engaged on your behalf, can protect you from answering incriminating questions.

Do Your Actions Constitute Receipt of Stolen Property?

The prosecutor must establish by proof beyond a reasonable doubt that you knew the property was stolen when you received it. The requirement that the property be stolen merely means that the property was taken from the owner with the intent of permanently depriving the owner of possession, such as with theft offenses like grand theft, petty theft, burglary and the like.

The prosecutor need not show that you had physical possession of the property to successfully prove a charge of receipt of stolen property. It’s sufficient to establish that the property came within your control, which need not be exclusive. For example, a friend might ask you to hold a gun and then place it in a drawer in your bedroom. This would constitute “constructive receipt” of the gun, even though you never physically took the gun, and it was never on your person.

The most critical requirement of this offense is that you knew the property was stolen. In addition to eliciting incriminating evidence during interrogation, the prosecutor may attempt to prove that you knew the property was stolen by the surrounding circumstances of the transaction and how you came into possession of the property. Types of evidence that the prosecutor may use to establish knowledge include:

  • You received to the “deal of the century”
  • Identifying marks such as serial numbers have been scratched off
  • The transaction was cash only with no receipt provided
  • Secrecy in the transaction or hiding of the property

Consequences of Conviction

If you’re convicted of receiving stolen property, you’re subject to very serious penalties. A misdemeanor conviction may result in a term in county jail not to exceed 1 year, while a felony conviction may result in a maximum term in state prison or county jail of 3 years.

If the item stolen is a motor vehicle, boat or certain construction equipment, you may also be subject to a fine of $1,000 if you’re convicted of a misdemeanor or $10,000 for a felony conviction, plus other fines and fees the court is allowed to impose.

Defense Strategies

While charges of receiving stolen property constitute a serious criminal offense, there is also substantial room for ambiguity and effective defenses to prevent such a criminal conviction, such as:

  • Lack of Knowledge: One obvious defense that is frequently successful is that you didn’t know the property was stolen. It’s also often effective to argue that you didn’t know the property was within your control. Using the gun example previously described, a friend may have put the gun in your bedroom drawer without your knowledge or consent.
  • Legitimate Claim of Right: The prosecutor cannot successfully obtain a conviction if you can show that you believed that you had a legitimate claim of right to the property. For example, you might believe that the stolen item was actually something that belonged to you because you own an item that is identical. This defense, which is a variation of the lack of knowledge defense, is based on your honest belief that when you accepted the property it was actually yours.
  • Lack of Intent: If you can establish that when you received the property you intended to return it to the original owner, this also constitutes a valid defense to receipt of stolen property charges. To effectively utilize this defense, you must have had the intent to return the item when it initially came into your possession. It is not a defense that you had a change of heart later and decided to return the item.

If you’re accused of receiving stolen property, do not talk to anyone from law enforcement! If the police try to speak to you, assert your right to a lawyer and refuse to answer questions.

I’ve successfully defended many clients in San Diego and the surrounding counties against misdemeanor and felonies, including receipt of stolen property. If you have any questions about your case, get in touch for a free consultation to go over the specifics of your case and your legal options.