While there are signs the economy in the U.S. is continuing to slowly improve from the fallout of the 2008 recession, there are still a lot of people struggling to find decent and steady work. Unfortunately, the need to buy items does not go away. Therefore, it may not be feasible to make purchases from a department store, and people may instead turn to online bulletin boards and/or neighbors to find items they need. The risk of buying things from non-traditional sources is that the items may be stolen, leaving the purchaser facing charges for possession of stolen items if discovered by police. Anyone facing criminal charges for any offense needs to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent them in court and in dealings with the prosecutor. This is especially true with stolen property-related charges because there are a number of defenses the accused can present to win an acquittal. A man in the San Bernardino area was recently arrested for possession of stolen property when police discovered him with a collection of tools previously reported missing after a burglary several weeks earlier. Given how easily and unintentionally a person could come into possession of stolen items, understanding what qualifies as a crime in California and the possible defenses to such charges is useful information to have, and will be discussed below.
Defining Possession of Stolen Property
The technical name of this offense is “receiving stolen property”, and the prosecutor must prove three important elements in order to find a person guilty. First, the individual must buy, conceal, sell, withhold or receive property (or actively aid someone to keep the property from the owner) that was unlawfully taken as part of a theft or extortion offense. Second, the person must know that the property was in fact stolen, and third, the person knew the property was in his/her possession. If the property is valued at $950 or more, the offense is charged as a felony, and is punishable by up to three years in county jail and/or $10,000 in fines. Items worth less than $950 typically result in a misdemeanor charge, which brings a possible sentence of up to one year in county jail. However, a misdemeanor can be elevated to a felony depending on the criminal history of the accused and the circumstances of the alleged offense.
There are three main defenses a criminal defense attorney can present to combat possession of stolen property charges. The first is the accused either unknowingly or lacked actual knowledge that the item was stolen. The crime requires the offender to know the merchandise was stolen, so the absence of this information would allow the defense attorney to argue the accused is not guilty. Further, if there were no indications on an item that would indicate it was stolen, such as scratched out serial numbers, there is an argument a reasonable person would have no reason to suspect a theft was involved.
The second defense involved innocent intent. If the accused planned to return the property to the rightful owner or surrender it to law enforcement when it was received, the charges would be dismissed if a judge or jury believed this argument. Note that if the accused initially planned to return the property when it was received, but later decided to keep or sell it, this defense is not applicable.
Finally, in order to be guilty of this crime, the person must actually have possession of the stolen item. Possession requires the accused to know about the existence of the property and to take steps to bring it into his/her care. Thus, if someone placed stolen property in the car or home of another without their knowledge, there is no possession, and thus, no crime.
Call a Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been accused of any crime, the best thing you can do to protect your rights is to contact and hire a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Manshoory Law Group, APC represents clients throughout the Los Angeles area in criminal law cases, and will fight to obtain the best possible result in your case. Attorneys are available 24/7, so contact us today for a free consultation.