Defendant’s separate acts of receiving stolen property could not be aggregated in order to exceed the $950 value threshold for felony status. A search of Brown’s vehicle revealed various items of clothing stolen from two different stores (valued at $754 from one store, and $206.84 from the other). He was charged with and found guilty of a single felony count of receiving stolen property (Pen. Code, § 496, subd. (a)), as a result of aggregating the value of the items to exceed $950. Brown appealed, arguing that, because he took possession of the property in two discrete transactions, it was error to aggregate the value in order to charge a single felony offense rather than two misdemeanors. Held: Reversed. When a defendant knows that property has been stolen, section 496, subdivision (a) may be violated in either of two ways: (1) by buying or receiving any property that has been stolen or (2) by concealing, selling, or withholding any property from the owner. Each of the prohibited acts listed in section 496, subdivision (a) are separate and distinct offenses. In particular, receiving stolen property and concealing stolen property are separate offenses. Here, the jury was instructed only on the theory of receiving stolen property, the verdict forms only reflected the receiving stolen property theory, and the prosecution’s entire argument pertained only to receiving stolen property, not to concealing. The crime of receiving stolen property is completed upon taking possession of the property with knowledge that it is stolen. The facts showed that the receiving occurred at two different times and locations, and thus each was a separate crime. As a result it was improper to aggregate the two separate transactions in order to surmount the $950 threshold for felony status and there was insufficient evidence to support the felony conviction. The court distinguished People v. Mitchell (2008) 164 Cal.App.4th 442, which addressed concealing stolen property. The matter was remanded to the trial court to reduce the conviction from a felony to a misdemeanor.
The People were not required to charge defendant with shoplifting instead of receiving stolen property. On appeal, Brown also argued that he should have been charged with shoplifting instead of receiving stolen property. The Court of Appeal disagreed. Penal Code section 459.5, subdivision (a) provides, in pertinent part: “Notwithstanding section 459, shoplifting is defined as entering a commercial establishment with intent to commit larceny while that establishment is open during regular business hours, where the value of the property that is taken or intended to be taken does not exceed nine hundred fifty dollars ($950).” Subdivision (b) states, “Any act of shoplifting as defined in subdivision (a) shall be charged as shoplifting. No person who is charged with shoplifting may also be charged with burglary or theft of the same property.” Based on the statutory language, the court concluded shoplifting is to be distinguished from burglary and theft and, when section 459.5 applies, the person may be charged with shoplifting and may not be charged with burglary or theft. But it says nothing about precluding a charge of receiving stolen property. Thus, prosecution under section 496 was not improper.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/archive/A153191.PDF