The development of things like eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook marketplace makes it easier than ever to receive stolen property. Many of us are so excited about getting a good deal on something we’ve been looking for that we don’t even think to question why it’s such a good deal. We simply hand over our money.
The good news is that most of these transactions are legal and the item you just purchased isn’t stolen property. Still, there are always exceptions.
If you do inadvertently purchase stolen property and can show that you bought the item in good faith and had no way of knowing that it was stolen, you won’t face criminal charges, though you won’t be able to keep the property and will likely never see the money you paid for it. However, if you purchased the property even though you knew it was stolen, you’ll likely be charged with receiving stolen property in California. The same is true if you simply have items in your possession that you knew were stolen.
Penal Code 496
The issue of receiving stolen property in California is discussed in Penal Code 496. It states, “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, shall be punished by imprisonment.”
It also says, “Every swap meet vendor, as defined in Section 21661 of the Business and Professions Code, and every person whose principal business is dealing in, or collecting, merchandise or personal property, and every agent, employee, or representative of that person, who buys or receives any property of a value in excess of nine hundred fifty dollars ($950) that has been stolen or obtained in any manner constituting theft or extortion, under circumstances that should cause the person, agent, employee, or representative to make a reasonable inquiry to ascertain that the person from whom the property was bought or received had the legal right to sell or deliver it, without making a reasonable inquiry, shall be punished by imprisonment.”
The receiving of stolen property is one of California’s wobbler crimes. The value of the stolen property determines if you’re charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. If the property exceeds $950, it’s a felony crime.
If the total value of the stolen property is less than $950 and you’re convicted of misdemeanor receiving of stolen property, the maximum sentence you face is a year a county jail. The sentence for a felony conviction is 16 months, two years, or three years in a state prison.
If you accept or purchase property and later learn it was stolen, it’s in your best interest to report the situation to the police as soon as you learn about the property’s history. The longer you hold onto the property, or if you try to sell/give it to someone else the better the odds become that you’ll be charged with receiving stolen property.