It is common knowledge that stealing is a crime. What is shocking to some is that you can serve time behind bars and pay hefty fines for receiving stolen property depending upon the facts. California’s Penal Code 496 shifts focus from the primary thief and makes it illegal to receive stolen goods knowingly. This separate crime should not be confused with related offenses like theft, extortion, or robbery. If you are facing charges for violating PC section 496 in Pasadena, CA or other Los Angeles County cities, call The Law Office of Ann Gottesman to speak to Ann.  Ann is happy to provide free consultations and is passionate and skilled in representing clients charged with theft crimes.  Ann cares about her clients on an individual level and works hard to achieve the best possible outcome in each case.

The laws revolving around theft offenses are complex. For instance, you can still face charges under Penal Code 496 even if you pay a fair price for the stolen property. The general rule of thumb is you may be charged with this crime if the prosecution believes they can prove you knew or should have known that the goods purchased were obtained illegally. One of the key reasons to seek legal representation is that a conviction can have devastating consequences on a person’s employment and career.  In aggravated cases the charge could be filed as a felony triggering the possibility of jail time.

Penal Code 496 (Receiving Stolen Property) Defined

Under Penal Code 496, it is a crime to receive, purchase, conceal, sell or withhold property you know or should know is stolen. The crime is a wobbler offense that can attract felony or misdemeanor charges depending on the value of the stolen goods.

Penal Code 496 has three main elements that the prosecutor must prove before a jury or court can legally find you guilty of the crime. They include:

  • You received, bought, or concealed property obtained through theft or extortion, thus withholding the asset from its owner
  • You knew or should have known that the property was stolen or obtained through extortion

It remains imperative to understand that you are also guilty of the crime if you solely aided in selling, withholding, or concealing the stolen property. Therefore, even a failed attempt to engage in any of the above acts could leave you facing charges under Penal Code 496.

Here are some of the keywords used in the statute and what they mean:

Stolen Property

The term stolen property refers to any asset obtained illegally. It could be acquired through robbery, theft, embezzlement, burglary, or extortion. Generally, the property is considered stolen if obtained from its actual owner through force, fear, or without their consent.


Receiving property means possessing an asset or gaining actual or constructive control. While actual control means holding or touching the property, constructive possession refers to knowingly having the stolen asset within an area you have access to.

You Knew the Property Was Stolen

One can tell that property received is stolen if the seller confesses to it before selling or transferring the property to the receiving party. In fact, there are situations where any reasonable person would have reason to suspect that a specific item was stolen.  For instance, the prosecution can file charges based upon the fact that you “should have known” a property was illicitly obtained if you bought it at a ridiculously reduced price.

Furthermore, business owners can face charges if they fail to inquire whether the property sold to them was actually stolen. Some of the Penal Codes that apply to business owners include:

  • Penal Code Section 496(b) — Applies to vendors that collect or deal with personal property
  • Penal Code Section 496d(a) — Applies to motor vehicle or construction equipment dealers
  • Penal Code Section 537e(a) — Applies to vendors specializing in computer panels and chips or appliances with serial numbers.
  • Penal Code Section 496a(a) — Applies to junk metal collectors or dealers of second-hand materials.
  • Penal Code Section 496b — Applies to dealers of literary material like secondhand books.

The complexity of theft offenses and the laws revolving around the crimes makes it imperative to seek legal counsel as soon as the police arrest you. Note that while some criminal offenses prompt the prosecution to charge a defendant for violating different Penal Codes, you cannot face charges for both theft and receiving stolen property. A reliable attorney will help you understand the charges you face and ensure you have the best legal representation. This will increase your odds of enjoying a favorable outcome.

Penalties for Violating Penal Code 496

Receiving stolen property is a wobbler offense. The prosecution can impose misdemeanor or felony charges depending on the facts of a case. Typically, the prosecution will consider the value of the stolen goods. You may face felony charges if the overall value of the property involved exceeds $950.

If convicted for a misdemeanor, the punishment includes:

  • Summary probation, or
  • County jail time for up to 1 year
  • A fine not exceeding $1,000

A felony conviction attracts the following penalty:

  • Formal probation, or
  • Incarceration for up to 3 years in county jail
  • A fine of up to $10,000

Apart from the probation, jail time, and fines, if you suffer a felony conviction, you may lose your lawful right to own, possess or purchase a gun for the rest of your life.

Best Defenses to Fight Receiving Stolen Property Charges

There are some good strategies to be employed when fighting a Penal Code 496 violation. Some of the top defenses your criminal defense attorney could use include:

Lack of Knowledge

One of the elements the prosecution must prove is that you knew that the goods you received were stolen. It could be that you honestly thought you were receiving “clean” property. It could also be that the person handing over the goods did not give you any reason to suspect they were illicitly obtained. In short, if you did not know, nor would any reasonable person in your situation have known that the property in question was stolen, you cannot be convicted of receiving stolen property.

Moreover, you cannot be guilty of the crime of receiving stolen property if you do not have knowledge that you possessed the illicitly obtained property. For instance, it could be that someone tried to hide a stolen items in your school locker or garage. Even if the place is in your control, you lacked knowledge of the stolen property in your possession.

Innocent Intent

Another defense to the crime is lack of intent to deprive the actual owner of their property.  For example, the accused may have received property he or she knew was stolen but the accused intended to deliver it to its owner or the nearest police station.

Note that the above defense only works if you do not change your mind about returning stolen property to its owner. For example, you can still be prosecuted if you keep an iPad you found in the field for a prolonged period. The only way to justify innocent intent is to attempt to deliver the iPad to its owner or the police without unnecessary delay.

Mistaken Identity

Penal Code 496 makes it a crime to “receive” stolen goods.  As aforementioned, “receive” means possessing an item or gaining actual or constructive control over it. That said, you are not guilty of the crime if you did not have an item in your immediate possession or within an area you can access with ease.

A misunderstanding can quickly leave you battling criminal charges for violating Penal Code 496. For instance, you are not guilty of a crime if someone accidentally leaves a stolen item within an area of your control. An experienced criminal defense attorney can assist you in developing your defense and obtaining the necessary evidence.

Is Intoxication A Viable Defense?

Generally speaking, you cannot blame your actions on intoxication and use that as a defense to the charges. This is more so if you were under the influence voluntarily. However, when confronting Penal Code 496 charges, you could use intoxication to negate the lack of knowledge requirement.

For instance, it could be that you were having a good time at your end-of-year party when someone handed you a Rolex watch after winning a poker game. Even if the watch seemed too good a deal, you were all drinking heavily, and you did not give the issue much thought. Such a situation makes it plausible that you lacked knowledge that the watch was stolen and had no intent to receive illicitly obtained property.

Related Offenses

Let us now have a look at crimes closely related to a Penal Code 496 violation:

Penal Code 503 — Embezzlement

Embezzlement is the crime of unlawfully taking property entrusted to you by someone else with the intent to deprive its actual owner of its use. Penal Code 503 and 496 are closely related because they both involve depriving the rightful owner of the use of their property. Moreover, embezzlement is a wobbler offense charged as a felony when the value of the embezzled goods exceeds $950.

The elements of the crime are as follows:

  • The plaintiff entrusted you with their property
  • You and the plaintiff shared a relationship of trust
  • You fraudulently used or converted the property in question for your benefit
  • You intended to deny the plaintiff of the right to enjoy the use of their property

A harsher sentence may be imposed if you have prior embezzlement or theft convictions. If found guilty of a misdemeanor, the penalty will be as follows:

  • Up to 6 months imprisonment in county jail

A felony conviction can attract the following punishment:

  • Up to 3 years incarceration in state prison

Penal Code 518 — Extortion

Penal Code 518 PC makes it illegal to use threats or force to compel another person to give you their property, money or other kinds of value. The laws also describe extortion as using force or threats to induce a public officer to perform official acts. Extortion is a violent crime because the defendant obtains property by inducing fear. Therefore, it is a felony that attracts harsh sentencing and can impact your gun rights and immigration status.

Before conviction, the prosecution must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • You used force or threats to unlawfully obtain money, property, or anything of value, such as a favor (an official act) from the victim
  • The victim gave you property, cash or performed an official action under duress
  • You received the money, property, or “favor.”

A Defendant can be facing extortion charges even if he or she never harmed the victim and never followed through with the threat to expose the victim’s secret or harmful information. The law only requires that the prosecution prove that the Defendant threatened the victim with force or fear.

A felony conviction for violating Penal Code section 518 could result in the following punishment:

  • Jail time for up to 4 years
  • A fine not exceeding $10,000

Penal Code Section 484(a) — Petty Theft

Penal Code 484(a) criminalizes the wrongful stealing or taking of another person’s property worth $950 or less. The offense is a misdemeanor, although it is treated as a felony if the property involved is a firearm.

The prosecution bears the burden of proof. Before a conviction, the DA must prove four elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • You took or stole someone else’s property worth less than $950
  • You did not have the property owner’s consent
  • You intended to deprive the victim of their property permanently
  • You moved the property (through any distance) and kept it in your possession (through any period, however short)

If the court finds you guilty of petty theft, you may suffer the following penalties:

  • Jail time for up to 6 months
  • A fine of $1,000 maximum

Penal Code Section 487 — Grand Theft by Larceny

Grand theft is defined the same as petty theft, the only difference being that the value of the property involved exceeds $950. The crime is a wobbler offense that can attract felony or misdemeanor charges depending on the specifics of a case.

Before convicting you, the prosecution has to prove four essential elements. They include:

  • You stole or took possession of someone else’s property worth $950 or more
  • You did not have the property owner’s permission
  • You intended to deprive the rightful owner of their property permanently or aimed to keep the property for long enough to deprive its owner of its value or enjoyment
  • You moved the property (through any distance) and kept it in your possession (any period, however short)

A misdemeanor conviction for grand theft can result in the following maximum consequences:

  • Incarceration in county jail for up to 1 year

Keep in mind, for many misdemeanors, a Judge will have discretion to dismiss the charges pursuant to Penal Code section 1001.95 (diversion).  Your attorney will file a motion requesting the Judge exercise his or her discretion to do so.

A felony conviction is punishable by:

  • 16 months, 2 or 3 years imprisonment in county jail

It is crucial to note that a grand theft felony conviction attracts penalty enhancements, especially if the value of the stolen property is exceptionally high. Seeking reliable legal counsel and representation can help make a difference in the outcome of your case.

Penal Code 485 – Theft or Misappropriation of Lost Property

Under California’s Penal Code section 485, it is illegal to misappropriate lost property. The crime falls under theft offenses and is a wobbler charged as a misdemeanor or felony. If you come across someone else’s property, the law compels you to attempt to identify the owner or report at the nearest police station. Keeping the property or tampering with it is a criminal offense.  The idea of “finders keepers” only applies after an attempt has been made to find the rightful owner.

Here are elements the prosecution must prove before convicting you under PC 485:

  • You came across or found lost property with hints to identify its rightful owner
  • You took the property for your personal use
  • You made no reasonable efforts to find the property’s actual owner

Like most theft offenses, misappropriating lost property is treated as grand or petty theft. The prosecution will impose misdemeanor charges if the property’s value does not exceed $950. On the other hand, you risk facing the punishment of a felony conviction if the misappropriated property is valued at $950 or more.

The penalty for a misdemeanor conviction is as follows:

  • Incarceration for up to 6 months in county jail
  • A maximum fine of $1,000

A felony conviction is punishable by:

  • Up to 3 years imprisonment in county jail
  • A fine of up to $10,000

Penal Code Section 459 — Burglary

Another crime related to receiving stolen property is burglary. Penal Code Section 459 defines the crime as the act of entering a locked car, commercial or residential structure to steal or commit a felony. You can face burglary charges irrespective of whether you have to knock down doors to gain entry into a building/room or do not use any force. Moreover, the prosecution can impose charges whether you accomplish your mission or fail.

Here are the elements of the offense:

  • You entered a locked vehicle or residential structure, or
  • You entered a commercial establishment after business hours
  • You stole/intended to steal property or commit a felony

The punishment for violating Penal Code 459 depends on whether the prosecutor charges you with first-degree or second-degree burglary.

First-degree burglary involves entering a residential structure. The offense is a felony, and if convicted, the punishment includes:

  • Formal probation, or
  • Up to 6 years imprisonment in state prison
  • A fine not exceeding $10,000

Second-degree burglary is a lesser crime compared to first-degree burglary. It involves entering a commercial setting or any structure that is not a residential home or dwelling. Unlike first-degree burglary, the offense is a wobbler charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.

If convicted of misdemeanor burglary, the punishment will include:

  • Summary probation, or
  • Jail time for up to 1 year
  • A maximum fine of $1,000

If the prosecution convicts you of felony burglary, you could expect the following punishment:

  • Felony probation, or
  • A sentence of up to 3 years in county jail
  • A fine not exceeding $10,000

Penal Code Section 211 — Robbery

If the police arrest you with stolen property, they could begin by treating you as the main thief and imposing robbery charges if there is evidence to show the theft was conducted by using force or fear upon the victim. Under Penal Code Section 211, robbery is a violent crime described as the felonious taking of another person’s property. The offense involves taking property from the immediate presence of a victim, by inflicting fear or through the use of force. You need a skilled attorney to analyze the evidence to determine the best possible defense to the charge.

The four elements of robbery are as follows:

  • You stole or took someone else’s property
  • The property was in the immediate presence or possession of your victim
  • You used force or fear to take the property from the victim against their will
  • You intended to deprive the victim of their property permanently or for a period long enough to see the asset depreciate in value

Robbery is a felony, and its punishment includes:

  • Up to 9 years’ incarceration in state prison

Navigating the criminal justice system is often more challenging when dealing with theft offenses. Even minor details or facts tabled by the prosecution can quickly escalate a Penal 496 offense into the next big crime, including burglary. Whether your case will go south or achieve a favorable outcome will highly depend on the quality of legal aid you seek. A seasoned criminal defense attorney can increase your odds of having your charges or sentencing reduced.

Understanding How a Criminal Attorney Can Help

A skilled criminal defense attorney can provide invaluable assistance if you face charges for receiving stolen property or other theft related crimes. Here are just some of the ways a criminal defense lawyer can help:

  • Evaluate and investigate the case
  • Gather evidence that may dispute the elements of the crime or show how evidence obtained by the prosecution may not support the elements of the crime
  • Challenge the evidence proffered by the prosecution to raise doubt which can lead to an acquittal
  • Investigate and analyze affirmative defenses that may apply
  • Negotiate on your behalf to reduce the impact of criminal and civil penalties

With a skilled criminal defense attorney representing your best interest, you can increase the odds of having your charges or penalties reduced or dismissed. Moreover, your attorney can negotiate with the prosecution and show who you really are as a person, so you are not just a file and a case number to the prosecutor.   Depending on the facts of your case, you could benefit from an opportunity to negotiate with the plaintiff and make a civil compromise. The option for informal diversion and full dismissal is very possible in first offense cases that don’t involve aggravating facts.

Find A Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

If you face charges for receiving stolen property in Pasadena, CA, we invite you to contact The Law Office of Ann Gottesman.  Ann truly cares about her clients.  She will personally discuss your case with you and work with you in preparing your defense.  For more information about Penal Code 496 or to schedule a free consultation, give Ann a call at 626-710-4021.