Better Call Glew: Stolen Property Alert
Hi Mr. Glew:
I was buying audio equipment from my buddy for a really good price then reselling it on eBay. My friend got arrested for theft and the cops came to my house and questioned me about the stuff I sold on eBay. I ended up talking to them for a half hour and when they left they said they might charge me with possessing stolen property. I don't think the equipment was stolen, but you never know. I definitely don't know for a fact it was stolen. Can they really charge me with receiving stolen property if I didn't know it was stolen?
Yes and no. Penal Code section 496 is the governing statute, and to be convicted of receiving stolen property, a prosecutor must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the property in question was stolen, that you "received" the property, and that you knew the property was stolen.
A violation of Penal Code section 496 is a wobbler, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Property is considered stolen if it is obtained through, among other things, theft.
Further, you have received property when you have possession and control over it. Finally, a prosecutor need not prove that you had direct knowledge the property was stolen (i.e. you watched your friend steal it), but rather can show knowledge through circumstantial evidence, namely the "really good price" you got.
It sounds like you didn't take my long-standing advice of remaining silent when being interrogated by law enforcement, and given what you have told me, it sounds as though you may be good for a conviction for receiving stolen property. My advice to you is to make no further statements to the police, and to retain counsel immediately, to help prevent your case from being filed as a felony, or to prevent it from being filed at all. It is very important to be proactive when defending your rights, regardless of whether you are in the pre or post filing stage.
Remember, if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is and the items are most likely stolen.
Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. And remember, Better Call Glew!
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