This particular crime is known as a “Wobbler” (California Penal Code section 17(b)), which means that the prosecutor can charge you with either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the specifics of your situation.
As a rule of thumb, however, if the value of the property is not more than $950, then you’ll be charged with a misdemeanor.
If it’s more, then you could (though not necessarily) be charged with a felony.
Theft Crimes – Pre-Files/Early Dismissals
As you can see from the example at the end of this article, the Los Angeles Defense Attorney Law Firm (LADALF) has enjoyed unparalleled success in getting theft-crime cases dismissed before they are even filed, or even shortly thereafter.
We work with a tightly knit group of professionals at the top of their fields, including private investigators and forensic accountants, to help prove your innocence or, at the very least, to establish that the prosecution has a weak case against you.
However, time is always critical in these circumstances, so if you find out that you’re being investigated by police for a theft crime, you need to immediately have your attorney reach out and get the assigned detective’s cooperation in not only apprising you of the status of the investigation, but to allow your lawyer sufficient time to provide him/her with evidence of your innocence (or at least lack of culpability) before he/she refers the case for prosecution.
Finally, even if you are arrested, we may still be able to get the charges dropped against you so long as we can provide the prosecutor with at least some exculpatory or mitigating evidence.
California Statutes – Theft Crimes — Receiving Stolen Property
California Penal Code section 496(a) (Receiving Stolen Property):
If you allegedly bought or received anything that has been stolen or otherwise taken in any way which equates to theft or Extortion (California Penal Code section 518), and you allegedly knew it to be stolen/illegally taken, or you intentionally and knowingly concealed, sold, or withheld (or aided in such activities) from the property’s lawful owner, then you’ll be criminally charged under this statute.
California Penal Code section 496(b) (Swap Meet Vendors & Sellers/Collectors of Merchandise/Personal Property):
If you are a swap meet vendor as defined in California Business and Professions Code section 21661, or if you deal in/collect merchandise/personal property, or if you work for one of those individuals, and you buy/receive stolen property (or property derived from extortion) worth more than $950, and in a manner which should have put you on reasonable notice that the property had been illegally obtained but you failed to reasonably investigate whether that was so, then you’ll be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony.
If the property was worth less than that $951, you’ll be charged with a misdemeanor.
California Penal Code section 496a(a) (Dealers/Collectors of Junk Metals/Materials Who Buy/Receive Metals Used for Telephone/Transportation/Public Utility Services):
If you are a dealer/collector of junk/metals/used materials, or if you work for such a person, and you bought/received wire/cable/copper/lead/solder/mercury/iron/brass, which you knew/should have known belonged to a railroad/other transportation/phone/telecommunication/gas/utility company, or a municipality/other political subdivision, and you failed to reasonably attempt to find out whether the property was stolen and that the seller was legally entitled to sell it to you, will be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.
California Penal Code section 496b(Dealers/Collectors of Books/Other Literary Materials):
If you are a dealer/collector of used books/literary material, or you work for such a person, and you bought/received a book/manuscript/map/chart/literary work, and that work belonged to a library/college/university, and you failed to reasonably investigate whether the seller was legally entitled to sell it, you’ll be charged with a misdemeanor.
California Penal Code section 496d(a)) (Buyers/Receivers of Vehicles/Trailers/Construction Equipment/Vessels):
If you bought/received a vehicle (as defined in the California Vehicle Code section 415), trailer (as defined in Vehicle Code section 630), certain construction equipment (as defined in Vehicle Code in section 565), or a vessel (as defined in the California Harbors and Navigation Code section 21) that was stolen or acquired through theft/extortion, and you knew of this fact, or you concealed, sold, withheld (or aided in such activities) from the lawful owner, then you will be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.
California Penal Code section 537e(a)) (Buyers/Sellers/Receivers of Specific Personal Property):
If you intentionally bought, sold, received, disposed of, concealed, or possessed property that’s had its identifying numbers filed off/removed/altered, then you’ll be charged as follows:
- If its value is $950 or less, you’ll be charged with a misdemeanor;
- If it’s more than that, you’ll still be charged with a misdemeanor, but with a potentially harsher punishment (see below);
- If it’s an “integrated computer chip”/panel, and it’s worth $951 or more, then you can be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.
Theft Crimes Convictions – Receiving Stolen Property — Misdemeanors
If your case is charged as a misdemeanor and you’re convicted thereof, at most you’ll get 12 months in the county jail (that is, if the judge requires a jail term, which he/she may not – particularly if this is your first offense).
The only exception for misdemeanor convictions are for violations of California Penal Code section 537e(a)) (Buyers/Sellers/Receivers of Specific Personal Property). Specifically, if the property is worth no more than $950, at most you’ll get 180 days in the county jail.
Theft Crimes Convictions – Receiving Stolen Property — Felonies
But if you’re charged and convicted of a felony for this offense, then you could receive a low, mid, or high term in prison of 18, 24, or 36 months, respectively, pursuant to California Penal Code section 1170(h)(1) (Felony Prison Term Not Specified).
Defenses to Theft Crimes Charges — Receiving Stolen Property
Any of the following defenses, if successful, would defeat this particular charge:
- You didn’t know the property you possessed was stolen;
- Alternatively, you knew the property was stolen but you didn’t know you possessed it (e.g., someone had stashed it in your car without your knowledge or consent);
- You never purchased, accepted, sold, hid, or otherwise kept the subject property from the owner;
- You never assisted in any of the foregoing acts;
- You did do one of the foregoing acts, or assisted in one of them, but you had no idea the property was stolen or was obtained as a result of Extortion (California Penal Code section 518);
- The subject property was never stolen or otherwise obtained through extortion;
- You did know the property was stolen when you took possession of it, but its value was not worth more than $950 (mitigation);
- You did knowingly receive stolen property but without the intent to permanently deprive the owner of it, or to keep it for such a long period as to deprive him/her of a large portion of its value or enjoyment (e.g., you planned on returning it to the owner or intended to give it to the police);
- You did knowingly receive it, but you believed it was actually your property that had been previously taken by you by the purported victim (“claim-of-right” defense).
See CALCRIM number 1750 (“Receiving Stolen Property — Pen. Code § 496(a)”);
CALCRIM number 1751 (“Defense to Receiving Stolen Property: Innocent Intent”);
CALCRIM number 376 (“Possession of Recently Stolen Property as Evidence of a Crime”);
CALCRIM number 1863 (“Defense to Theft or Robbery: Claim of Right”).
The “claim-of-right” defense only works when the specific piece of allegedly stolen property that you received was actually yours (or you at least sincerely believed it was yours), as opposed to you taking it to settle a debt that was owed to you.
See People v. Tufunga (1999) 21 Cal.4th 935, 945–950.
Theft Crimes — Example of a Felony Conviction for Receiving Stolen Property
Man Gets Almost 4.5 Years in State Prison for Trying to Sell Stolen Artwork to Undercover Feds
In 2008, millions of dollars’ worth of rare artwork was pilfered from a mansion in the San Fernando Valley, prompting an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s specialized art-theft unit.
Six years later, in late October 2014, a man named Raul Espinoza (age 46) met with undercover FBI agents in an attempt to sell all 9 stolen works (which were then worth at least $6 million).
Espinoza was arrested and for some inexplicable reason was charged with the California state law (as opposed to a federal crime) of Receiving Stolen Property (California Penal Code section 496(a)).
(Apparently, authorities were not able to pin the actual burglary of the mansion on Espinoza. It also remains unclear whether he informed on anyone else, including the actual burglars.)
Less than four months after his arrest, he took a nolo contendere plea to a single felony count of Receiving Stolen Property, and also admitted to a special allegation that the property was worth in excess of half-a-million dollars.
As a result, he received a sentence of almost four-and-a-half years in a California penitentiary, plus a restitution order.
A Sampling of Theft-Crimes Cases Handled by the Los Angeles Defense Attorney Law Firm (LADALF)
Pre-File: “Michael” Prosecuted for Five Misdemeanor Thefts; 5 Years’ Max; Case Dismissed
People v. M.C. (LAX Courthouse – 12/2020):
“Michael” hired LADALF after his estranged girlfriend fabricated criminal allegations of theft against him to LAPD, and he learned he was now being investigated for those allegations. LADALF immediately spoke to the detective in charge of the investigation and convinced him not to transfer the matter to the CA’s Office until he reviewed our evidence first.
LADALF worked with a private investigator to gather evidence that the girlfriend had been lying for financial reasons, and that Michael was being wrongfully accused.
Unfortunately, once we refused to allow the detective to interview Michael, the detective transferred the file to the CA’s Office, which resulted in almost half-a-dozen theft charges (all misdemeanors) being filed against Michael. As a result, he was facing a maximum of five years in the county jail.
But after the Deputy City Attorney handling the prosecution reviewed our evidence, he agreed that Michael was being framed.
Result: The entire case was dismissed.
Pre-File: “Randy” Admitted to Committing Grand Theft, 3 Years’ Max Sentence; Case Dropped
People v. R.P. (Los Angeles Superior Court – downtown C.C.B., 08/2013):
“Randy” hired us on a Pre-File basis, but unfortunately, he had already made extremely incriminating statements to the police. As a result, LAPD arrested him on suspicion of felony Grand Theft with a maximum of 36 months in a state penitentiary.
Fortunately, however, before the matter was transferred to the DA’s Office for the filing of formal charges, LADALF met with the detective and the victim to work out a civil compromise. This meant that in consideration for immediate repayment of the stolen funds, the file would not be transferred for prosecution.
Result: No charges were filed.
“Penny” Charged with Felony Grand Theft, Three Years’ Max; Informal Diversion & Dismissal
People v. P.W. (LAX Courthouse – 04/2016):
“Penny” was charged with felony Grand Theft (California Penal Code section 487) after she was captured by a surveillance camera at the now-defunct Barney’s in Beverly Hills walking out with a designer purse worth almost $5,000.
She hired LADALF as soon as she found out she was being investigated on a Pre-File basis, but when we reached out to the detective investigating her, we learned charges were about to be filed. In fact, the next day BHPD arrested her.
We quickly put together a mitigation package of material that supported our plea for leniency on Penny’s behalf, including her recent graduation from a top university and her acceptance into highly prestigious graduate programs. This was also her first time in legal trouble. Finally, she was ready to repay the $5,000 to Barney’s.
First, we showed the package to the detective, who agreed to support out plea. Then we all met with the prosecutor who, after reviewing the package, also agreed to give Penny a second chance.
Result: After paying the restitution and completing six months’ informal diversion, the charge was dismissed.