The crime of receiving stolen property (Penal Code section 496) is established when the prosecutor can prove that the defendant:
- bought, received, sold or aided in selling, concealed or withheld property, stolen from another person
- knew that the property was stolen
There are many variations of how a defendant may be guilty of this offense, such as when he/she:
- allows friend to store a car in his garage until he can sell it, knowing car was stolen
- sells items on eBay she suspects are “hot” because they were given to her by a girlfriend who has history of theft
- buys a rare gem or precious stone from a guy “off the street” for a mere fraction of its value
The punishment for “RSP” is as follows: If charged as a misdemeanor, the defendant can be sentenced to a period of years of probation (usually three years) and up to one year custody in county jail, along with fines/fees and restitution (if any). If the offense is charged as a felony, the person may either receive a term of formal probation (a probation officer is assigned to the defendant), up to one year of custody in county jail, in addition to fines/fees. If probation is denied, then the defendant is facing confinement in state prison for 16 months, 2 years or 3 years.
There are many potential defenses to the charge of “RSP” but especially so, if it can be shown that the defendant did not have “knowledge” that the property was stolen. While “knowledge” that property was stolen can be inferred by circumstantial evidence, specific circumstances can also be used to also show that property was “innocently” acquired, sold, or bought. Using the above hypotheticals:
- if the friend did not know the car was stolen, he may have thought he was just doing someone a favor by allowing the car to be stored in garage
- the girl had no idea that her girlfriend has a history of theft
- the purchaser of the rare stone thought he was buying a fake – that’s why the price was so low
Unfortunately, the police or prosecutor may not always have all relevant information in their possession when they decide to arrest someone for a theft and to subsequently file criminal theft charges. That’s why it is important to speak with a local, experienced attorney who can help organize and prioritize information that can lead a prosecutor to the right conclusion – that either the client did not commit the offense, or that his criminal responsibility is much lower than originally believed.