Oftentimes, when property is stolen, law enforcement officials encourage victims to search for their items in pawn shops and on online venues. For one set of homeowners, a Craigslist search proved fruitful in this respect. After a delivered package was stolen from a home in Palo Alto (a new awning for the very porch it was taken from), the owner decided to try to find his property, valued at about $250. Upon hearing about the advertisement, local police set up a sting operation designed to get the perpetrator to sell the item to an officer. It worked; the 39-year old Mountain View man was arrested after attempting to sell the stolen property to a law enforcement officer and on various drug possession charges.
California Penal Code 496 (termed ‘Receiving Stolen Property’) addresses various crimes related to the possession, sale, or receipt of stolen property. Any individual who is caught receiving, buying, hiding, or selling stolen property could be prosecuted under this section of the law. Additionally, prosecutors must be able to prove that a) the property in question was, indeed, stolen; b) the person attempting to sell the stolen property should have reasonably known that the property was stolen; and c) the person is actually in possession of these stolen goods.
This crime is what is known as a ‘wobbler,’ meaning that it is up to the prosecutors handling the case to determine whether to treat it as a misdemeanor or as a felony. Usually, this decision is made on the basis of the value of the property. In other words, if the property in question is valued at over $400, then prosecutors will likely treat it as a felony; if it is valued at under $400, they will likely treat it as a misdemeanor. If a violation of CA PC 496 is treated as a misdemeanor, penalties include up to 1 year in county jail and a $1,000 fine. However, if the violation is treated as a felony, a convicted individual may expect to spend up to 3 years in county jail and pay a $10,000 fine.