Receipt of Stolen Property: The Craigslist Nightmare
What is Receipt of Stolen Property?
The California Legislature has made it a crime to buy, sell, or receive property that has been stolen knowing the property is stolen. (Penal Code section 496)
This seems like sensible legislation, but it can have horrific unforeseen consequences.
Imagine a person searching for a specific high-end laptop and finding an incredible price on Craigslist. The person drives out to meet the seller, gives them their money, and takes the laptop. However, it turns out the laptop was stolen. The true owner tracks down laptop in the hands of the unknowing buyer and now the police are asking questions and may even make an arrest.
The standard of proof for an arrest is only probable cause, meaning, under the circumstances, would an ordinary person strongly suspect a crime has been committed and that the arrested person committed the crime.
A police officer who finds someone holding a stolen laptop would easily be able to arrest such a person if they were so inclined.
What if I didn’t know the property was stolen?
An essential element of the crime of receipt of stolen property is knowledge. At a jury trial, the prosecutor would be required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant actually knew the property was stolen at the time they took receipt of it.
However, the law allows a jury to infer that the defendant knew something from the suspicious circumstances of the purchase.
Therefore, just not knowing is not a defense.
For example, if a visibly homeless person is selling a brand-new iPhone 10 in the case, still with the protective plastic wrap on the box, and the defendant buys it for fifty cents, a jury may decide the defendant must have known the property was stolen, and convict, despite the defendant not having actual knowledge.
However, lack of knowledge is a generally accepted and often successful defense to this charge. But, the specific outcome of the trial will depend on the facts of that case.
What’s the Worst that could happen?
Receipt of stolen property is a wobbler, meaning it can be prosecuted as a felony or misdemeanor. If the value of the property is less than $950, however, it can only be prosecuted as a misdemeanor.
- As a felony: 16 months, or 2 or 3 years in state prison.
- As a misdemeanor: up to 1 year in county jail and a $1,000 fine
Also, under Article I section 28 of the California constitution, any person convicted of a crime must be ordered to pay restitution to the victim. Restitution is the amount that the victim lost because of the alleged criminal conduct. So, in addition to fines and jail, a person will generally be ordered to repay whatever the value that was allegedly taken.
It is also important to note that a person CANNOT be convicted of both receipt of stolen property and theft for the same property. A person either stole it or received it knowing it was stolen, not both.
Many people prosecuted for Receipt of Stolen Property are therefore also charged with Theft, and at trial the jury has to choose between the two charges or acquitting the defendant on both.
What should I do if I am charged with Receipt of Stolen Property?
You should immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney, like those at Manshoory Law Group, APC to assist you in analyzing the specific facts of your case, preparing and presenting defenses before and during trial, and making sure you understand your rights and helping you enforce them. The risks of a Receipt of Stolen Property conviction are too great to go-it alone. Call now for a free consultation (877) 977-7750.