California Case Law on Possession of the Stolen Property

In People v. Land (1994) 30 Cal.App.4th 220, the Court of Appeal set forth guidelines for determining whether a defendant possesses stolen property: "Possession of the stolen property may be actual or constructive and need not be exclusive. Physical possession is also not a requirement. It is sufficient if the defendant acquires a measure of control or dominion over the stolen property. However, . . . mere presence near the stolen property, or access to the location where the stolen property is found is not sufficient evidence of possession, standing alone, to sustain a conviction for receiving stolen property." (Id. at pp. 223-224.) In Land, the court wrestled with the question of what was necessary to show that a passenger "possessed" a stolen vehicle. Pertinent to the case before us, the Land court surveyed a number of cases from California and other jurisdictions and concluded that additional facts beyond mere presence or access to the stolen property were necessary to support the conviction. (People v. Land, supra, 30 Cal.App.4th at p. 228.) The Land court also concluded that there was "no single factor or specific combination of factors" necessary to show possession: "If anything, these decisions emphasize the question of possession turns on the unique factual circumstances of each case. 'The credence and ultimate weight to be given the evidence of the various particular circumstances are of course for the trier of fact . . . .' " (Ibid.) The Land court also explained that "the necessary additional circumstances may, in some fact contexts, be rather slight." (Id. at p. 225.)