Let’s say that a friend – someone you trust and believe – asks you to “watch” or “safeguard” a firearm, some jewelry, or an amount of cash. On the basis of your friendship, you agree, but you soon find yourself under arrest and charged with receiving stolen property.
It could happen to almost anyone. If it happens to you, what are your rights? Where can you turn? Keep reading to learn more about stolen property – and about those who receive it without knowing it’s stolen.
Under California law, it is illegal to receive, buy, sell, conceal, or withhold from its owner property that a person “knows” is stolen.
If the value of that stolen property is below $950, the charge in most cases will be a misdemeanor, and a misdemeanor conviction for receiving stolen property is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
If the stolen property’s value exceeds $950, the alleged offense can be charged as either a misdemeanor or as a felony.
That’s the prosecutor’s choice, and it depends upon the details of the crime and the prior convictions (if any) of the defendant.
A felony conviction for receiving stolen property is punishable by up to three years behind bars and a fine of up to $10,000.
On top of the criminal penalties, if you are convicted of receiving stolen property in California, you potentially could face a civil lawsuit from anyone injured by your crime – usually the owner of the stolen property.
Plaintiffs in these lawsuits may recover up to three times the amount of their actual damages, and they may additionally be awarded court and lawyers’ fees.
WHAT WILL AN ATTORNEY DO ON YOUR BEHALF?
As you can tell from the penalties, the state of California treats receiving stolen property as a serious crime. If you are charged with receiving stolen property in southern California – whether or not you knew it was stolen – you’ll need to contact a criminal defense attorney immediately.
Your defense attorney will investigate the details of the charge, gather evidence, and question witnesses on your behalf.
If the state’s case against you is weak, your attorney may be able to have the charge against you reduced or even in some cases dismissed.
Every case is different, but these are the typical defenses offered against the charge of receiving stolen property:
– The defendant did not know that the property was stolen.
– The defendant was not aware that the stolen property was in his or her possession.
– The defendant intended to turn the property over to its owner or to the police – the “innocent intent” defense.
– The defendant was voluntary intoxicated when the property was received and thus was unable to form the criminal intent required for a conviction.
WHAT IS THE EXACT LEGAL DEFINITION OF RECEIVING STOLEN PROPERTY?
In California, the state must prove three facts or “elements of the crime” to convict a defendant of receiving stolen property.
Remember that the law requires a defendant to “know” that property was stolen, or the defendant cannot be convicted of receiving stolen property.
To win a conviction, the state must prove that:
– The defendant purchased, sold or assisted in selling, received, concealed, withheld from the property owner, or assisted in concealing or withholding property that was stolen or extorted.
– The defendant knew at that time that the property was stolen or extorted.
– The defendant actually knew that the property was in his or her possession.
In California law, what does it mean to “receive” property? Someone “receives” property by taking control or possession of the property.
If you have “dominion and control” over stolen property and the general area where the stolen property is located, even if you do not have immediate and direct access to the stolen property, you may be considered to be in “constructive” possession of it.
WHAT IS REQUIRED TO CONVICT YOU OF RECEIVING STOLEN PROPERTY?
Everyone in California should understand the most important fact about the crime of receiving stolen property, which is this: Under California law, with several extremely narrow exceptions that are discussed below, you cannot be convicted of receiving stolen property unless you genuinely knew that it was stolen property, and the state must prove – beyond a reasonable doubt – not only that you received the property but also that you knew it was stolen.
What are the exceptions? Swap meet vendors, antique, junk, and metal dealers or collectors, pawnbrokers, consignment shop owners, and others who similarly deal in used merchandise can be convicted of receiving stolen property if they had any reason to suspect the property was stolen and they did not seek to determine if the person offering the property for sale or trade was its legal owner.
If you are not a citizen of the United States, you must understand that even a misdemeanor conviction in California for receiving stolen property can have drastic immigration consequences. Immigration regulations define receiving stolen property as a crime of “moral turpitude.”
Convictions for crimes involving moral turpitude can make an immigrant inadmissible, disqualify an immigrant from obtaining a green card, or even lead to deportation.
If you are an immigrant and you are charged with the crime, the immigration consequences of a conviction for receiving stolen property must be considered before you accept any plea bargain.
WHAT ABOUT LOST PROPERTY THAT YOU FIND?
It is also a crime in California to keep property that you have found if you do not make a reasonable effort to identify and locate the owner and return it.
The crime is called “appropriation of lost property,” and in California, it’s a type of theft, and it’s penalized like any other theft crime.
If you are arrested and charged with receiving stolen property in southern California, you must be advised and represented by an aggressive and experienced Orange County criminal defense attorney.
If you did not know that the property that you received was stolen, tell your attorney exactly what happened, and adhere to your attorney’s advice.
Don’t even think of acting as your own attorney if you are charged with receiving stolen property. Don’t accept any plea deal or sign any legal document before you have a defense lawyer’s advice.
The penalties for a conviction are too severe, and your freedom and future are too important to put at risk.