Receiving stolen property [Penal Code Section 496(a)] – Orange County defense

Receiving Stolen Property in Orange County

What are the elements?

Penal Code section 496, commonly known as receiving or possessing stolen property, falls under the broad category of theft charges, but there are a couple of twists.  First, in a theft case, the prosecution must prove that you took something with a specific intent to deprive the owner of their property.  For receiving stolen property, the intent requirement is a little different.  The D.A. must prove that you knew (or reasonably should have known) that the property is stolen.  That knowledge can be proven by a statement by you that you knew it was stolen, obviously, but they can try to prove it circumstantially as well.


Let’s say you buy something at a garage sale.  Suppose it’s a bicycle that’s in pretty decent shape, but is obviously used.  You know a little about bikes and know these are going for around $250 if you were to buy one from somebody that was selling it on Craigslist.  The guy at the garage sale will sell this one to you for $100.  Does that automatically mean you should have red flags and the prosecution can prove that there was obviously something fishy about the bike?  Probably not, since garage sales can often land good bargains, not necessarily making it “reasonable” that you should have known it was stolen.

But what if the same bike is being sold out of the back of a van for $20?  There, the extremely low price may give the police and DA an argument that you should have known that a legitimate owner would know the value of their property and would never sell it for that low a price.  There’s no percentage of the “normal” price or absolute rule, but a greatly discounted price may be a factor.

Similarly, if the item has serial numbers that have been altered or removed and the numbers are in a location where they can easily be seen, that may be a factor in the prosecution argument that you knew the item was stolen.


Obviously, the biggest issue in a receiving stolen property case is whether or not the prosecution can prove the elements of the crime against you.  If you do not make any incriminating statements (or if you do, but we can suppress them based on Miranda violations), then the entire circumstances will need to be examined to see if there is enough evidence to prove knowledge by you.

The property must also be stolen, so the DA must be able to produce a person to say the item in question is theirs and that it was in fact stolen, not discarded, lost or given voluntarily to another person.


Receiving stolen property is a “wobbler” in California, meaning it can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor at the DA’s discretion.  The law has recently changed and now if the property value is under $950 (it used to be $400), the prosecution can charge it as a misdemeanor.  As a felony, possession of stolen property carries up to three years in state prison and as a misdemeanor, it carries up to one year in county jail.

If you are being investigated or have been arrested . . .

Don’t make a statement to the police or anyone without first discussing the case with me.  Assume any statement is going to be used against you, even if it’s not made to the police during an interrogation.  Often, they will want to call you up and get a statement from you over the phone.  They aren’t required to read you your rights in that situation, so you may not be aware that your statement may hurt you.

For further information and to schedule a consultation about your case, contact me:

(714) 532-3600