Penal Code 496 PC is the statute in California that defines the crime of receiving stolen property. This offense entails buying, receiving, concealing or selling any property that the person knows to be stolen. Prosecutors may file the charge as a misdemeanor or a felony and the maximum sentence is up to 3 years in jail.
496 PC states that “Every person who buys or receives any property that has been stolen or that has been obtained in any manner constituting theft or extortion, knowing the property to be so stolen or obtained, or who conceals, sells, withholds, or aids in concealing, selling, or withholding any property from the owner, knowing the property to be so stolen or obtained [is guilty of a crime]”
- helping a friend hide jewelry that was stolen from a store.
- buying a cell phone while knowing that it was taken from someone else.
- selling “hot” goods on eBay.
A defendant can fight theft offense criminal charges by arguing:
- no knowledge that the goods were taken,
- innocent intent, and/or
- did not “receive” the taken items.
A violation of this code section is a wobbler offense under California criminal law. This means that a prosecutor can charge it as either:
A misdemeanor conviction is punishable by imprisonment in county jail for up to one year.
A felony conviction is punishable by custody in state prison for up to three years.
In lieu of jail time, a judge ca award either:
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. When is the receipt of stolen property a crime?
- 2. Are there legal defenses?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Are there immigration consequences?
- 5. Can a person get a conviction expunged?
- 6. Does a conviction affect gun rights?
- 7. Are there related offenses?
1. When is the receipt of stolen property a crime?
Penal Code 496 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person knowingly to receive stolen property.1
A prosecutor must prove the following to convict a defendant of this offense:
- the defendant bought, received, sold or aided in selling, concealed or withheld property that had been stolen from another, and
- when he did so, the defendant knew that the goods had been stolen or obtained by extortion.2
Questions often arise under this statute on the meaning of:
- stolen and extortion,
- receive, and
- knowledge that goods were stolen
1.1. Stolen and extortion
Property is stolen if it was obtained by:
- any type of theft (such as larceny or embezzlement),
- burglary, per Penal Code 459 PC, or
- robbery, per Penal Code 211 PC.3
Property is obtained by extortion, per Penal Code 518 PC, if:
- the goods were obtained from another person with that person’s consent, and
- that person’s consent was obtained through the use of force or fear.4
To receive property means to take possession and control of it.5
Note that one person does not have to be the sole possessor of the items. Two or more people can possess the items at the same time.6
Also note that a person can “possess” items without actually:
- holding them, or
- touching them.
The concept of “constructive possession” basically says that an accused possesses goods if he has:
- control over them, or
- the right to control them.7
Example: Susan steals some jewelry from a store. She takes it to her neighbor’s house – Michael and Kim. Susan offers Michael $200 to let her bury the goods in his yard to hide it. He agrees but he never touches the jewelry or holds it. Susan buries the gems.
Here, Michael is guilty of receiving stolen property. While he never “possessed” the jewelry, he had the right to control it since it was in his yard. Kim can even be guilty of the same offense if Michael told her about it. Two people can co-possess goods at the same time.
1.3. Knowledge that property was stolen
A defendant is only guilty under this statute if, when he “received” items, he knew it to be stolen.8
Note that certain categories of business owners can be convicted under this statute even if:
Example: Paco is 19 and buys his first motor vehicle. It is a shiny, relatively new Porsche that he gets from a guy on Craigslist. Paco purchases the car for the “bargain” price of $2,000. The car was stolen two weeks ago.
Here, it is unlikely that Paco is guilty under PC 496. The Porsche was his first car purchase and he was somewhat naïve with the market. A reasonable person would honestly think he was the owner of the property. He also did not truly know that the car was “hot.”
- the prosecutor cannot prove that,
- they actually knew the goods were stolen.
For example, swap meet vendors and people whose primary business is dealing with or collecting merchandise or personal goods can be convicted of receiving stolen property if:
- they acquired the goods and should have had reason to suspect they were stolen, and
- they failed to inquire into whether the goods were actually stolen.9
2. Are there legal defenses?
A defendant can challenge a receipt of stolen property case with various possible defenses.
Three common arguments criminal defense lawyers use are:
- no knowledge,
- innocent intent, and/or
- no receipt of goods.
In any case, the prosecution needs to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt through direct and/or circumstantial evidence. Typical evidence includes surveillance video, eyewitnesses, and serial numbers.
2.1. No knowledge
Recall that a defendant is only guilty under this code section if he knew that the goods involved were in fact stolen. This means it is always a defense for the accused to say that he did not have this knowledge.
2.2. Innocent intent
An “innocent intent” defense says that a person is innocent under PC 496 if:
- at the time he received the stolen items,
- he intended to return them to the owner or bring them to law enforcement.
Example: Roman owns a car shop. A woman comes to him and tells him she wants to sell him a stolen SUV. Roman is offended and wants to try and bust the woman. He buys the car and then takes it to the police.
Here, Roman is not guilty of receiving stolen items because he had an “innocent intent.”
Note, though, that this defense only applies if the accused:
- intended to return the items at the time he received them, and
- did not later change his mind.10
2.3. No receipt of property
Recall that a defendant must “receive” stolen items to be guilty under this law. Further, this word carries a specific legal definition. An accused, therefore, is not guilty of a crime if he did not in fact receive the items.
Perhaps, for example, he did not:
- possess the property, or
- have control over it.
3. What are the penalties?
A violation of Penal Code 496 is charged as a wobbler offense. A wobbler is a crime that a prosecutor can charge as either:
- a misdemeanor, or
- a felony.
If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by:
- misdemeanor (or summary) probation,
- custody in county jail for up to one year, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.11
If charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by:
- felony (or formal) probation,
- imprisonment in county jail for up to three years, and/or
- a maximum fine of $10,000.12
Note, though, that a violation of this statute is only charged as a misdemeanor if:
- the total value of the property involved in the charge,
- is $950 or less.13
4. Are there immigration consequences?
A conviction of receiving stolen property will have negative immigration consequences.
An offense under this law is considered a “crime involving moral turpitude.”
This type of crime can result in a non-citizen being either:
5. Can a person get a conviction expunged?
A person convicted of receiving stolen property can get an expungement.
This is true provided that the defendant successfully completes probation. Or, if a jail sentence was imposed, the accused must successfully serve the entire term.
If a party violates a probation term, a judge may still award expungement.
Penal Code 1203.4 PC says an expungement releases an individual many of the hardships arising out of the conviction.14
6. Does a conviction affect gun rights?
A conviction under this statute may hurt a defendant’s gun rights.
California law prohibits convicted felons from either:
- purchasing a gun,
- owning a gun, or
- possessing a gun.
Remember that a prosecutor may choose to charge receiving stolen property as either:
- a misdemeanor, or
- a felony.
If an accused is:
- charged with, and convicted of, felony receipt of stolen goods,
- then he will lose his gun rights.
7. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to receiving stolen goods. These are:
- embezzlement – PC 503,
- extortion – PC 518, and
- theft/appropriation of lost property – PC 485.
Judges tend to impose punishments on the harsher end of the sentencing range if the defendant has prior convictions.
7.1. Embezzlement – PC 503
Penal Code 503 PC is the California statute that defines the offense of embezzlement.
This code section makes it a crime for a person to unlawfully take goods that someone has entrusted to him.
The focus with embezzlement is not on receiving goods. This is because the crime requires that “the victim” entrusted items to the defendant.
7.2. Extortion – PC 518
Per Penal Code 518 PC, extortion occurs when a person does any of the following:
- uses force or threats to compel another person to give him money or other items, or
- uses force or threats to compel a public officer to perform an official act.
Extortion is a more aggressive crime than receiving stolen goods. This is because the offense involves a defendant using force or threats against another.
7.3. Theft/appropriation of lost property – PC 485
Penal Code 485 PC is California’s law against appropriating (or misappropriating) lost goods.
The law prohibits a person from:
- keeping goods that he finds
- when there are clues that identify its true owner.
This crime places a burden on a person to find the owner of a lost good.
For additional help…
Arrested in Nevada or Colorado? See our articles on:
- “Nevada ‘Possession of Stolen Property’ Laws (NRS 205.275),” and
- “Theft by Receiving Stolen Property (Colorado 18-4-404 C.R.S.)”
- California Penal Code 496a PC.
- CALCRIM No. 1750. See also People v. Land (1994) 30 Cal.App.4th 220.
- CALCRIM No. 1750.
- See same.
- See same. See also People v. Land (1994) 30 Cal.App.4th 220; People v. Zyduck (1969) 270 Cal.App.2d 334; and, People v. Gatlin (1989) 209 Cal.App.3d 31.
- CALCRIM No. 1750. See also People v. Scott (1951) 108 Cal.App.2d 231.
- CALCRIM No. 1750. See also People v. Gatlin (1989) 209 Cal.App.3d 31.
- CALCRIM No. 1750.
- California PC 496.
- CALCRIM 751.
- California PC 496. See also California Penal Code 19 PC.
- California PC 496. See also California Penal Code 1170h PC.
- California PC 496.
- California PC 1203.4.