Penal Code 496 PC is the California statute that defines the crime of “receiving stolen property.” A person commits this offense when he buys, receives, conceals, or sells any property that he knows to be stolen.
The code section says:
“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 a charge under this statute with a legal defense. Common defenses include:
- no knowledge that the property was stolen,
- innocent intent, and/or
- did not “receive” property.
A violation of this code section is a wobbler offense. 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 jail 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 property 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 property was 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 property was 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 property. Two or more people can possess the property at the same time.6
Also note that a person can “possess” property without actually:
- holding it, or
- touching it.
The concept of “constructive possession” basically says that an accused possesses property if he has:
- control over it, or
- the right to control it.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 property at the same time.
1.3. Knowledge that property was stolen
A defendant is only guilty under this statute if, when he “received” property, 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 hist first car. 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. He also did not truly know that the car was “hot.”
- the prosecutor cannot prove that,
- they actually knew the property was stolen.
For example, swap meet vendors and people whose primary business is dealing with or collecting merchandise or personal property can be convicted of receiving stolen property if:
- they acquired the property and should have had reason to suspect it was stolen, and
- they failed to inquire into whether it was actually stolen.9
2. Are there legal defenses?
A defendant can challenge a receipt of stolen property case with a legal defense.
Three common defenses are:
- no knowledge,
- innocent intent, and/or
- no receipt of property.
2.1. No knowledge
Recall that a defendant is only guilty under this code section if he knew that the property involved was 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 property,
- he intended to return it to the owner or bring it to the police.
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 property because he had an “innocent intent.”
Note, though, that this defense only applies if the accused:
- intended to return the property at the time he received it, and
- did not later change his mind.10
2.3. No receipt of property
Recall that a defendant must “receive” stolen property 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 property.
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 property. These are:
- embezzlement – PC 503,
- extortion – PC 518, and
- theft/appropriation of lost property – PC 485.
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 property 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 property 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 property, or
- uses force or threats to compel a public officer to perform an official act.
Extortion is a more aggressive crime than receiving stolen property. 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 property.
The law prohibits a person from:
- keeping property that he finds
- when there are clues that identify its true owner.
Unlike receiving stolen property, this crime places a burden on a person to find the owner of a lost good.
For additional help...
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
For information on receiving stolen property charges in Nevada and Colorado, please 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 - Receiving Stolen Property. See also People v. Scott (1951) 108 Cal.App.2d 231.
CALCRIM No. 1750 - Receiving Stolen Property. See also People v. Gatlin (1989) 209 Cal.App.3d 31.
CALCRIM No. 1750 - Receiving Stolen Property.
California Penal Code 496 PC.
CALCRIM 751 – Defense to Receiving Stolen Property: Innocent Intent.
California Penal Code 496 PC. See also California Penal Code 19 PC.
California Penal Code 496 PC. See also California Penal Code 1170h PC.
California Penal Code 496 PC.
California Penal Code 1203.4 PC.