Penal Code 496d PC is the California statute that defines the crime of buying or receiving a stolen vehicle. People commit this offense when they either buy or receive a stolen vehicle while knowing that the vehicle is stolen, or, sell or withhold a stolen vehicle while knowing that the vehicle is stolen. A violation of this law can lead to a felony conviction punishable by up to three years in state prison.
The language of PC 496d states, “Every person who buys or receives any motor vehicle…any trailer…any special construction equipment…or any vessel…that has been stolen or that has been obtained in any manner constituting theft or extortion, knowing the property to be stolen or obtained, or who conceals, sells, withholds, or aids in concealing, selling, or withholding any motor vehicle, trailer, special construction equipment, or vessel from the owner, knowing the property to be so stolen or obtained…[is guilty of a crime]…”
- taking over the title of a car that a friend stole.
- helping a person steal a boat and then selling it to someone.
- buying a truck at a discounted price because it was stolen from a dealership.
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies to help clients contest charges under this statute. A few common ones include lawyers showing that a defendant:
- did not know that a vehicle or property was stolen,
- violated the law on accident, and/or
- was arrested after law enforcement conducted an unlawful search and seizure.
If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by custody in county jail for up to one year.
If charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by a state prison term of up to three years.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. Is it a crime in California to receive a stolen vehicle?
- 2. Are there legal defenses to PC 496d charges?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Are there related offenses?
1. Is it a crime in California to receive a stolen vehicle?
A prosecutor must prove the following to successfully convict a defendant under California Penal Code 496d:
- the defendant bought or received a motor vehicle, trailer, special construction equipment, or vessel, or
- concealed, sold, or withheld a motor vehicle, trailer, special construction equipment, or vessel, and
- when the defendant acted, he/she knew that the motor vehicle, trailer, special construction equipment, or vessel was stolen.1
For purposes of this code section, “special construction equipment” means any vehicle used primarily off the highways for construction purposes and which may not move over the public highways without a permit.2
A “vessel” includes ships of all kinds, steamboats, steamships, canal boats, barges, sailing vessels, and every structure adapted to be navigated from place to place for the transportation of merchandise or persons.3
2. Are there legal defenses to PC 496d charges?
People accused of violating this code section can challenge the accusation with a legal defense. Three common defenses include accused people showing that they:
- did not know that the property in question was stolen.
- violated the law on accident.
- were arrested after the police conducted an unlawful search and seizure.
2.1. No knowledge
Recall that people are only guilty under this law if they acted with knowledge that a vehicle, trailer, construction equipment, or vessel was stolen. This means it is always a defense for an accused to say that he/she did not know that the property in question was obtained via theft.4
A similar defense is for a defendant to assert that he/she violated the statute on accident. The defense will likely succeed so long as the accused had no criminal intent, was not acting with criminal negligence, and was engaged in lawful conduct at the time of the accident. If successful, the defense can serve to reduce a charge or to get one dismissed entirely.
2.3. Unlawful search and seizure
Defendants can always assert that they were arrested under this law only after the police conducted an unlawful search and seizure. In the State of California, law enforcement can only search and seize something if they have a warrant or a legal excuse for not having one. If they find stolen personal property via an unlawful search and seizure, then a judge can drop or reduce any criminal charges that get filed.
3. What are the penalties?
A violation of Penal Code 496d is a wobbler. A district attorney can charge a wobbler as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
A misdemeanor conviction is punishable by:
- custody in county jail for up to one year, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.5
A felony conviction is punishable by:
- a state prison term of up to three years, and/or
- a maximum fine of up to $10,000.6
4. Are there related offenses?
There are four crimes related to buying or receiving a stolen vehicle. These are:
- receiving stolen property – PC 496a,
- auto theft with prior convictions – PC 666.5,
- grand theft auto – PC 487d1, and
- joyriding – VC 10851.
4.1. Receiving stolen property – PC 496a
Per Penal Code 496a PC, receiving stolen property is the crime where people buy, receive, conceal, sell, or withhold property that they know to be stolen.7
As with a violation of PC 496d, a violation of this code section is a wobbler offenses that a prosecutor can file as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
4.2. Auto theft with prior convictions – PC 666.5
Per Penal Code 666.5 PC, auto theft with a prior conviction is the sentencing enhancement that increases the penalties if a person is convicted of auto theft for a second or subsequent time.
As with charges of buying or receiving stolen property, defendants can defend against charges of this offense by showing that they were only arrested after law enforcement conducted an unlawful search and seizure.
4.3. Grand theft auto – PC 487d1
Under Penal Code 487d1 PC, grand theft auto is the crime where people take someone else’s vehicle, worth $950 or more, without permission and with the intent to deprive the true owner of the vehicle.
Note that grand theft is the unlawful taking of someone else’s money, labor or property valued at $950.00 or greater. The crime is different from petty theft, which is the taking or stealing of someone else’s property when the value of the property is $950.00 or less.
Penalties for California theft crimes/theft offenses typically vary depending on the value of the property that was stolen/the value of the stolen goods.
As with violations of PC 496d, violations of PC 487d1 can lead to felony charges punishable by up to three years in state prison.
4.4. Joyriding – VC 10851
Under Vehicle Code 10851 VC, joyriding is the crime where people drive or take someone else’s vehicle without that person’s consent.
Unlike crimes under PC 496d, crimes under this statute do not involve stolen vehicles. People commit an offense under VC 10851 simply by taking a person’s car without that party’s consent.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with one of our criminal defense attorneys, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide both free consultations and legal advice you can trust.
Our lawyers also represent clients throughout California State, including those in Los Angeles County, Orange County, San Bernardino, Riverside, San Diego, and Torrance.
- California Penal Code 496d PC. See also People v. Wehr (2020) 467 P.3d 168.
- California Vehicle Code 565 VC.
- California Harbor and Navigation Code 21.
- See, for example, People v. Russell (2006) 144 Cal.App.4th 1415.
- California Penal Code 496d PC.
- See same.
- See CALCRIM No. 1750 – Receiving Stolen Property. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2020 edition).