Possession of stolen property in California, as defined by Penal Code section 496, involves any person who buys, receives, conceals, sells or withholds any property that they know is stolen. There are three elements to this crime – that property was stolen, the accused person received the property and that the accused person knew the property was stolen. The key to this crime is whether the person knows the property was stolen, or should have reasonably suspected that the property was stolen. Possession of stolen property is considered a wobbler. It will be charged as a felony or misdemeanor depending on the value of the item stolen. If a person possesses a stolen item worth $400 or more, then the District Attorney’s office will charge felony possession of stolen property. If the value of the stolen item is less than $400, then the District Attorney’s office will charge misdemeanor possession of stolen property.
A person is not allowed to be convicted of both theft and possession of stolen property. Therefore, the District Attorney’s office will often charge possession of stolen property in cases where they suspect someone has stolen the property, but can’t actually prove the theft. The maximum penalty for misdemeanor possession of stolen property is one year county jail; the maximum penalty for felony possession of stolen property is three years state prison.
Furthermore, receiving stolen property can mean more than actual possession. A person can be guilty of this crime for constructive possession of stolen property as well. Actual possession is when someone has the property on them. Constructive possession is when someone is in control of the property. For example, if there was stolen property in your bedroom, then you’re in constructive possession of the property, even if you’re not in the house, because you control the contents of your bedroom. If you share the bedroom with someone else, then both of you have constructive possession of the stolen property and both of you can be charged with the same crime. However, merely being near stolen property or having access to stolen property is not a crime.
Clues that law enforcement to use to prove this knowledge include evidence that an item was purchased for far less than its actual value, or possessing an item that has the serial number destroyed.
Common defenses to possession of stolen property include: not knowing the property was stolen, believing the property was rightfully yours, or not realizing you had possession of stolen property (for example, someone put stolen property in your house or car without your knowledge).
Not only can a Penal Code section 496 conviction lead to criminal penalties, but it can also have drastic employment, licensing and immigration consequences. Receiving stolen property is considered a crime of moral turpitude, which is a crime that relate to a person’s honesty. Having this theft-related conviction can prevent a person from finding a job or lead to a person being fired from their current job. Furthermore, many professions that require licensing from a state board, such as doctors, pharmacists, nurses, lawyers, accountants, contractors, teachers, real estate agents and stock brokers, all require background checks. A professional who has a theft conviction on their record risks losing their professional license, or never acquiring it in the first place. Perhaps the most severe impact of a theft-related conviction involves immigration consequences. Non-citizens who are permanent residents, with a green card, or temporary visitors with a visa, can be denied admission or naturalization or even deported, with a theft-related conviction on their record.
Choosing the right criminal defense lawyer will be the most important decision someone can make when facing criminal charges of receiving stolen property. Many people who face Penal Code section 496 charges are good people who made a mistake or exercised poor judgment. There are also some people who have been wrongfully accused of receiving stolen property, based on a misunderstanding or false evidence. You need an attorney who will listen to your side of the story carefully, who will evaluate the evidence thoroughly, who will negotiate with the judge and the District Attorney’s office skillfully, and who will fight in trial aggressively. You need an attorney like Fred Thiagarajah.
As a former Deputy District Attorney, Fred Thiagarajah has the negotiating skills and trial experience necessary to get the best results for his clients. If a client has no criminal record, Fred Thiagarajah can often negotiate a dismissal of the charges, either through a diversion program or through a civil compromise. For clients that have been in trouble in the past or for more serious theft crimes, Fred Thiagarajah can often negotiate a reduction of the charges or penalties, that may help avoid jail, licensing consequences or immigration consequences. For examples of past cases involving theft, please see his Case Results or read his Client Testimonials.
With law offices in Newport Beach, Beverly Hills and Riverside, Fred Thiagarajah has criminal defense experience in the counties of Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside.
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