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Penal Code section 496 defines possession of stolen property as receiving, buying, selling, concealing or withholding any property that was stolen or taken unlawfully, while having the knowledge that the property was stolen or taken. If the person in possession of the property knows or even suspects it was attained by any means of theft, he or she can be charged with possession of stolen property. This offense can be considered a misdemeanor or felony depending on the value of the property in question. If the value is less than $400, the charge is normally a misdemeanor and if over $400 it is normally a felony.
It is also important to note that a person cannot be charged with both theft and possession of stolen property. A prosecutor might charge the defendant with possession of stolen property if he or she cannot prove the person stole the item. In addition, there are two types of possible possession charges: either actual possession or constructive possession. Actual possession of stolen property is when the person physically has the property on them, while constructive possession of stolen property is when the person has the property under their control, but not physically on them. Examples of this might be if the property is in a person's house or vehicle while the person is not there with it. This charge can also fall on a roommate or someone that shares the space where the stolen property is kept.
The maximum sentence of a misdemeanor possession of stolen property offence is one year in jail; and for a felony, the maximum is three years in state prison. Both charges could also result in fines, probation, and a criminal record. If the defendant is a non-US citizen, this charge could result in a deportation or other immigration consequences.
Having a criminal defense attorney on your side can help if you face a possession of stolen property charge. By gathering appropriate evidence, an attorney can help prove that you had no knowledge the property was illegally taken, the property rightfully belonged to you, or the property was put in your possession without you realizing it. You may be able to get the penalties reduced or the charge dropped all together. An experienced criminal lawyer can help you understand your rights and options, and will defend you throughout the process.
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