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Penal Code 496 PC: California “Receiving Stolen Property” Laws

Posted in Robbery on January 31, 2018

California Penal Code (PC) 496 has been part of the state’s laws since 1872. It deals with the crime of larceny, or theft, and crimes against property. PC 496 makes it illegal to knowingly buy or receive any property that someone else stole or obtained in a manner constituting theft. There are strict punishments for knowingly purchasing, concealing, withholding, or selling stolen goods in California – including up to a year of jail time. Here’s what you should know about this law as a California citizen.

What Actions are Illegal Under PC 496?

PC 496 makes buying and receiving any type of property that is stolen or obtained using theft or extortion against the law. It is also illegal to sell, conceal, or withhold stolen property from the rightful owner. Aiding someone else in selling, hiding, or withholding stolen property is also a crime. There are different crimes under PC 496 depending on the type of stolen property and the identity of the perpetrators

Swap meet vendors and others who deal in used merchandise or personal property have a duty not to purchase, conceal, or sell any stolen goods. This includes a duty to reasonably inquire as to the source of the goods prior to making a deal. If a vendor breaks these rules, he or she can face imprisonment in county jail for no longer than one year. Dealers of secondhand materials, junk collectors, secondhand book dealers, people who purchase motor vehicles, and those who sell computers or electronic equipment without serial numbers all have different duties and penalties for breaking the law under PC 496.

Proving an Infraction of PC 496

If the police arrest someone under suspicion of receiving stolen property in California, it is up to the prosecutors to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecutor must establish two things. One, that the defendant did in fact purchase, sell, receive, or aid in the purchase, sale, or concealment of property that someone stole from another person. Two, that the defendant knew or reasonably should have known someone stole the property or otherwise illegally obtained it at the time of the action from the first element.

A person who receives more than one piece of stolen property on one occasion is only guilty of one offense of PC 496, regardless of how many pieces of stolen goods are involved in the single deal. Also, the courts cannot find a defendant guilty of two crimes if he or she steals and receives the same piece of property. For example, the courts cannot convict one defendant of grand larceny and receiving stolen property. The prosecution must select one charge or the other.

Punishments for Receiving Stolen Property

The penalties for knowingly accepting or concealing stolen goods are relatively strict in an effort to discourage crimes against property. Depending on the nature of the crime, breaking the rules of PC 496 could result in a felony conviction. Anyone who buys or receives stolen properly, or intentionally conceals or withholds property from the rightful owner knowing it was stolen, is subject to punishment by imprisonment in county jail for up to one year. If the value of the stolen goods is less than $950, the offense is a misdemeanor, but still punishable with up to a year in county jail.

Possible Defenses to Charges Under PC 496

If you’re on trial for breaking the receiving stolen property law, there are a few potential defenses that may be available to you. You could allege that you did not know someone had stolen the property, you did not know the stolen property was in your possession, you intended to report the activity to the police or return the item to the owner, or that you were too intoxicated to intentionally commit this crime. Work with our experienced criminal defense attorneys if you face this type of charge in California, as the consequences of conviction can be severe.