Charges of receiving stolen property are common because other theft crimes are often reduced to this offense when the prosecutors cannot raise enough evidence for other theft offenses. Charges related to receiving stolen property are punishable by a minimum punishment of a misdemeanor probation. On the other hand, a felony could attract as much as a three year jail term. A brilliant defense can enable the defendant to have the charges dismissed or the possible punishments and charges reduced. If you are facing these charges in the Vista, CA and North County areas, Vista Criminal Attorney Law Firm is ready to represent you in court.

Legal Definition of Receiving Stolen Property in California

Receiving stolen property is defined under penal code §496 of California Laws. A person is guilty of this offense if the following elements are proved:

  1. The person either bought, received, sold, withheld, or concealed property belonging to someone else, or under false pretense, exhorted such property from someone else;
  2. The person assisted another person to extort property that does not belong to them;
  3. Before the arrest, the person knew that the property was in their possession;
  4. He or she knew that the property under their possession was obtained through extortion.

When there is insufficient evidence to support claims of theft or robbery, a prosecutor could charge you with possession of stolen property. A number of issues arise from this point of view. The most debated issue is what if someone asked you to hold or deliver a particular item, then it turns out that the package had been stolen and you were unaware that the package was extorted from someone. Such an incident would be difficult to prove since it makes sense that you lacked a reason to question the contents of the package. Eventually, the judge could perhaps issue a misdemeanor probation or dismiss the charges.

The court also assumes that any stolen property might have been acquired through robbery, burglary, or theft. Thus, pressing charges for receiving stolen property is usually the best option for prosecutors if there is insufficient evidence for a theft crime, yet, the person is in possession of stolen property.

When is a Property said to be Received and Extorted?

The law presumes that anyone that enjoyed the benefits of a stolen property, despite the fact that they might have not stolen it or they borrowed the property, could be charged with receiving stolen property. For instance, you could be arrested for driving in a stolen car; The judge would, however, consider whether you had prior knowledge that the particular car had been stolen. You could also be guilty when it is established that even after learning that the property had been stolen, you continued to reap its benefits.

The term extortion describes a situation where property has been obtained without the owner’s consent and through force or by imparting fear on the owner.

A proof that a crime is a violation of Penal Code 496 and is usually an uphill task to prosecutors. This is because there are some instances where it is difficult to establish the real property owner, especially between two or more people. For instance, Tom, Dan, and Harry are roommates. The three of them share one wardrobe. Dan takes one of the roommate's glasses and stores them in the wardrobe while his friends are unaware of his action. The fact that the three students have joint control over the wardrobe means that they jointly possess the stolen glasses. However, joint possession of the glasses does not mean that they are all guilty of possessing stolen property: Not until all friends learn about the presence of the glasses, as well as the fact that the glasses were stolen, and use of the glasses for their own benefit, will they be violating penal code §496.

On the other hand, simple incidents like purchasing stolen items from a street vendor for a value below the normal market value can be charged under penal code 496. An employer may also fall liable for an employee's actions of receiving stolen property in case they received the property under the direction of the employer. But to be convicted, the employer should have prior knowledge that the property had been stolen.

California Penal Code §496 allows the plaintiffs to file a civil lawsuit for damages. The civil lawsuit  could be in the amount of actual damages, up to three times the value of punitive damages, attorney costs, and associated costs. There are occasions when such costs may escalate, for instance, the costs may be increased to cater for persons that suffered injury by the sale of the stolen product. Hence, such persons could file a civil lawsuit against the seller. The law also adds that it is important to eliminate the market for stolen goods, thereby reducing the number of theft cases.

Some jurisdictions treat receiving stolen property as a different criminal offense from possession of stolen property. The similarity between the two offenses is that the prosecutor must prove that the intention of receiving or possessing a property was dishonest. The contrasting elements when the two offenses are treated separately are that the defendant is charged with receiving stolen property if he/she knew at the time of receiving that the property was stolen. If the person did not find out that the property was stolen at the time of receiving the property, and found out later that the property had been stolen, he/she would be charged with possession of stolen property. Thus, California treats possession of stolen property as an element of receiving stolen property under penal code 496.

Consequences of Receiving Stolen Property

California State laws categorizes receiving stolen property as a crime of moral turpitude – a crime that is considered morally wrong. Criminal offenses under crimes of moral turpitude carry collateral punishments when the defendant is either a professional or an immigrant living in the U.S. For instance, convicted licensed professionals would be denied subsequent employment or have their license suspended or revoked, while migrants would get their immigration statuses revoked or get deported.

The penalty for receiving stolen property is dependent on whether the criminal offense was a felony or a misdemeanor. Facts surrounding the offense are collected and analyzed to establish the value of the property and the wobbler status of the offense. Also, an individual’s background is checked for criminal history.

When the valuation of the received property does not exceed $950, the court imposes a misdemeanor receiving stolen property penalties – which are similar to misdemeanor penalties of petty theft. The convict would face a maximum of one year in county jail and/or a maximum fine of 1,000 dollars.

The court imposes felony penalties when the stolen property exceeds $950. Felony penalties for receiving stolen property include sixteen months, two years, or three years in county jail. A maximum fine of 10,000 dollars may also apply.

There are cases where a defendant could face slightly different charges after committing the offense of receiving stolen property. Typically, the difference in the charge would be determined if the alleged crime was executed under a guise of a business. If the defendant is known as a swap meet vendor, or when a business enterprise deals with collecting personal property, they would attract felony charges for receiving stolen property, and the penalty extends up to three years in county jail. The stolen property must, however, exceed the value of $950; otherwise, the offense will be charged as a misdemeanor. A significant concern after a PC 496 conviction is that victims have the right to file lawsuits demanding compensation. In this regard, the convicted person would incur a cost of as much as three times the perceived stolen property value.

Defenses for Receiving Stolen Property

  • Legally defending PEN 496 charges employs similar strategies of defending charges related to theft. A person may not necessarily have committed theft to be charged with a crime related to theft. For instance, the court may not establish that you had been at the crime scene when the theft occurred. Also, some conditions have to be met for an act of theft to be considered a criminal offense. But the prosecutor will press for PEN 496 charges if you possessed stolen property, yet, the crime is not valid under other theft laws. Below are possible defenses that attorneys can use to seek a case dismissal or a reduction of the possible punishments and charges.
  • The defendant did not know that they possessed stolen property – Someone might receive stolen property without knowledge that they have received the property. A criminal might try to cover up an act of theft by framing someone else. In such incidents, the criminal places stolen property in your car, home, or purse, which gets you in trouble since the physical evidence of possessing the stolen property prompts the police to go after you. However, the fact that you didn't know about the property would be an excellent defense argument for you. Producing several witnesses and evidences to support this claim would impact positively on your case.

  • The defendant had an innocent intention – The court recognizes that a defendant might have not had the intention to own or extort the property. This means that the defendant had the intention to, perhaps, return the stolen property to the rightful owner or report the incident to the police. Note that the defense of criminal intent only applies if, at the time of receiving the property, you intended to look for the owner. This defense strategy will not apply if:

  • When the defendant received the property, he/she had the intention to keep it and only return it later;
  • When the defendant received the property, they had the intention to return it but later changed their mind.

  • The defendant lacked prior knowledge that the property had been stolen – A key element in determining a conviction of receiving stolen property is to establish that you knew that the property had been stolen. Through dishonest or unscrupulous means, you decided to keep the property for yourself. Prosecutors usually track prior knowledge of the property being stolen as the basis of criminal suspicion. In as much as the judge has the ultimate decision of determining whether the defendant had prior knowledge of stolen property, the defense attorney plays a critical role in supplementing the claim with concrete facts. Consequently, the jury might identify that the price of a sold property was too good to be true or, perhaps, they were missing serial numbers. The court may then dismiss the charges.

  •  The defendant had been involuntarily intoxicated at the time of receiving the stolen property – Separate punishments exist for committing offenses while under the voluntary influence of drugs or alcohol. An intoxication means that the defendant's mental state had been corrupted when they received stolen property. The aspect of involuntary intoxication is enough evidence that the accused had no intention to violate penal code 496 PC. The defense lawyer can, therefore, show that by being under the influence of drugs, the accused could not establish that the property was stolen.

  • The defendant is the owner of the property – You can only be guilty of receiving stolen property if the property belonged to another person. Similar to any other property crime, you need to prove to the court that the item was rightfully yours. For instance, your bike may have been stolen and upon tracking and finding it, you take it. The fact that you didn’t report the initial incident to the police means that you can face theft charges, but you are not liable to PEN 496 charges because the bike is yours.

  • The defendant borrowed the property –  California law indicates that someone guilty of receiving stolen property, had the intent to deprive the owner from the possession of their property. The defense lawyer can argue that the property had been borrowed. Hence, when one has legitimately borrowed property, it means they have the intention to return the property within the given duration. In this case, charges for receiving stolen property will not amount to a criminal offense.

Related Crimes to Receiving Stolen Property

Receiving stolen property often relates to a number of theft crimes. The crimes include:

Grand Theft and Petty Theft

Grand and Petty theft are defined under California penal code 487 and 488 respectively. All cases where the stolen property is less than $950 result in petty theft charges. Otherwise, when the amount is $950 and above, a person would face charges for grand theft.

Even though it appears obvious that a person who is guilty of theft violated PEN 496, it is surprising that such a person may not be charged with both a theft crime and receiving stolen property. For instance, a judge may convict a defendant of receiving stolen property even when it is evident that the defendant actually stole the property. Such an occasion will likely happen when the prosecutor has no adequate evidence to support claims of grand theft. As an example, a man snatches a purse from a woman walking down the street. While snatching the purse, he covers his face and, therefore, the woman could not identify him. Later on, the snatched purse is found under the possession of the man. Despite the fact that he snatched the purse (an automatic charge to a crime of theft), the woman cannot correctly identify whether he was the actual thief. Therefore, there is not enough evidence of proof of witness to convict the person of theft. In this case, the charges may be dropped to receiving/possession of stolen property.


Embezzlement is described under penal code 503 of California law. The law defines embezzlement as the fraudulent appropriation of property. The property must have been entrusted to the person that embezzled them. California law punishes embezzlement quite similarly to grand/petty theft (that is, depending on whether the embezzled value is above or below 950 dollars). Property that has been acquired through embezzlement could be a concern in a trial of receiving stolen property in establishing the value of the property.

Appropriation of Property Lost

Appropriation of lost property is the crime of illegitimately possessing property that you have found, and which does not belong to you. Receiving stolen property might seem similar to penal code 485 appropriation of lost property crime. However, the two crimes are distinct. Remember, receiving lost property would only occur after actual theft has occurred. On the other hand, for an act to be considered an appropriation of lost property, the following circumstances must hold true:

  • The defendant found the property under a situation that made it possible to find out who the actual owner was;
  • The defendant failed to make reasonable effort to find out who the owner of the property was.


Extortion is defined under penal code 518. Extortion occurs when someone compels another person to unwillingly consent to offer them money or property, either by force or threats. This crime goes hand in hand with an offense of receiving stolen property.

Get Legal Representation Near Me

If you are charged with receiving stolen property around the Vista, CA and North County areas, contact Vista Criminal Attorney Law Firm to help you through your case. You can also contact us for any questions concerning any other property or theft crimes, and our experienced criminal defense lawyers will help in determining the best defense strategy for your case. Reach us today at 760-691-1551.