A property crime is a crime that involves the theft or destruction of another person's property. While these crimes are sometimes not considered as serious as violent crimes or offenses causing injuries, being sentenced for a property offense can result in life-changing consequences.  As a result, it is essential to retain a lawyer who can work aggressively to realize the best possible case outcome for you. This is what you will get with the California Criminal Lawyer Group. We can work closely with you and ensure you understand the progress of your case. And when necessary, we can engage expert witnesses and investigators to uncover and challenge the evidence against you. We handle all property crimes with the same level of determination and commitment.

Property Crimes

Property offenses include criminal acts related to the destruction of another person's property or theft. They range from low-level crimes like vandalism or shoplifting to felonies such as arson. While some crimes require the actual taking of property, others don't require you to carry away the stolen property or injure the victim. Many property offenses include a wide range of levels depending mainly on factors like:

  • The use of arms or force,
  • The stolen amount, and
  • Bodily injury caused during the crime commission

Here is an overview of common property crimes.

California Trespass Laws

PC 602 makes it unlawful to remain on or enter another person's property without the right or consent to do so.

To be sentenced for this crime, the prosecution must establish the following facts of the crime:

  • The accused person entered another person's property
  • The defendant had specific intent to interfere with the individual's property rights
  • The accused interfere with the person's property rights

When you behave with specific intent, it means both your conduct and the act's consequences show the intent.

Occupying Property

A commonly prosecuted type of trespass is occupying another person's asset without their permission. The word "occupy" refers to remaining in an area continuously for a considerable period.

Penalties and Consequences for PC 602

A trespass charge can be prosecuted as an infraction, misdemeanor, or felony.

Misdemeanor Penalties

Most trespass charges are misdemeanors punishable by:

  • A six-month county jail sentence
  • One thousand dollars in fine
  • Misdemeanor probation

Infraction Penalties (PC 602.8)

You will face an infraction charge if:

  • You willfully get into another person's land without consent, and
  • A fence encloses the land, or the land has at least three "no trespass" signs posted in a mile.

Potential penalties include:

  • A fine of seventy-five dollars for your first-offense crime
  • $250 in fines for a second-time crime on the same land

If charged with a third-time offense on the same land, you'll face misdemeanor trespass charges.

Aggravated Trespass (Felony)

Aggravated trespass happens when the defendant:

  • Makes a credible threat to severely injure somebody else planning to make the individual fear for their safety or that of their family, and
  • Within thirty days after making the threat, enter the individual's workplace or property planning to execute the threat.

Aggravated trespass is a wobbler. A California wobbler is a crime that could be charged either as a felony or a California misdemeanor depending primarily on the defendant's criminal history and case circumstances.

A misdemeanor conviction is punishable by a year in jail and a fine of $2,000. If convicted of aggravated trespass as a California felony, you will serve up to three (3) years in jail. Sometimes, the judge might impose formal probation.

Vandalism (PC 594)

Vandalism is maliciously destroying, damaging, or defacing somebody else's property.

To be convicted of PC 594, the prosecutor should establish the following facts of the crime:

  • You maliciously "defaced with graffiti or any other inscribed material," destroyed, or damaged property,
  • You didn't own the asset or possess it with another person
  • The amount of the damage, destruction, or defacement was either at least $400 for a felony or did not exceed $400 in a misdemeanor charge.

If the vandalism is committed on public property such as park benches, the court will presume that you didn't know the property and didn't have the consent to destroy, damage, or deface it.

Defaced With Graffiti or Other Inscribed Material

The legal phrase means any unauthorized inscription, figure, design, mark, or word marked, drawn, painted, scratched, or etched on personal or real property.

It is not a must for the defacement to be permanent.

Sentencing, Penalties, and Consequences for Vandalism

Discussed below are misdemeanor and felony penalties for violating PC 594.

Misdemeanor Penalties

As previously mentioned, if the destruction's worth does not exceed $400, the vandalism is charged as a misdemeanor. It is punishable by:

  • A year in jail
  • $1,000 in fines or a maximum of $5,000 if you have a previous vandalism conviction
  • Informal probation with the following conditions:
    1. Counseling
    2. Performing community service
    3. Suspension of your driver's license for two years
    4. Being held accountable to keep the property in question or other assets in your community "graffiti-free" for a year

Felony Penalties

You will face the following felony penalties if the damage exceeded four hundred dollars:

  • Either a maximum of three years in jail or probation for a year in jail
  • Ten thousand dollars in fines or fifty dollars if the damage amount is at least ten thousand dollars
  • You should comply with probation conditions

If you have been found guilty of vandalism before and were either granted probation or served time, you should be incarcerated in your current criminal charge.

Penalties and Consequences for Graffiti With Damage that Doesn't Exceed $250

Suppose you are accused of defacing an asset with graffiti or other inscribed material, and the entire cost of repairing the damage is $250 or less. In that case, the prosecution can decide to file a less severe penalty scheme under PC 640.5 and PC 640.6.

However, it is within the prosecution's discretion. The prosecutor can also decide to file misdemeanor vandalism charges.

If charged with either PC 640.5 or PC 640.6, your potential penalties will depend on whether it is your first or subsequent conviction.

The first conviction under PC 640.5 and PC 640.6 is an infraction. If convicted, you will perform community service and pay a fine of one thousand dollars.

A second conviction is a misdemeanor that carries the following potential penalties:

  • Engaging in community service
  • Fine of $2,000
  • Six months in jail

Finally, a third or subsequent conviction is a misdemeanor. If sentenced, you will perform community service, pay a fine of three thousand dollars, and spend a year in jail.

Arson in California

Under PC 451, it is an offense to set fire to property, forest land, or a structure.

To be convicted of this crime, the prosecution team must demonstrate that you maliciously and willfully set fire, caused the burning of or burnt the forest land, property, or structure.

Please note that the charring of wood is enough proof of a burn or fire.

Arson is a felony. The specific penalty depends on the property type and whether the alleged victim sustained burn injuries. Here are the potential punishments:

  • If the arson results in great bodily injuries, you will serve up to nine years in California state prison.
  • The conduct that burns an inhabited property or structure carries three (3), five (5), or eight (8) years in prison.
  • Arson of forest land or a structure attracts a six-year sentence
  • Violating arson intending to commit insurance fraud is punishable by up to three (3) years in prison
  • If arson leads to death, you will face a murder conviction
  • Attempted arson is punishable by sixteen months, two (2) years, or three (3) years in California state prison.

The court could enhance these felony penalties to an additional three (3), four (4), or five (5) years. The sentencing enhancement applies if:

  • You have a previous arson conviction,
  • The fire led to great bodily injuries to an emergency responder like a firefighter,
  • At least one victim sustained great bodily harm, or
  • The incident burned several structures.

Petty Theft

PC 484 defines petty theft as stealing or taking another person's asset worth less than nine hundred and fifty dollars.

You will be convicted of petty theft if the prosecutor proves that:

  • You took possession of an asset that belongs to another person
  • You took the property without its owner's permission
  • When you took the property, you wanted to deprive the owner of their asset for good
  • You moved the asset and kept it for a while (even a short distance counts)

When you steal many things in an instance, the question becomes whether your conduct is a single offense or every theft is a separate crime. The court will consider the theft as one theft if:

  • You stole the items from one victim, and
  • The stealing is part of one plan, impulse, or intent.

If the court determines there is one charge, the value of the property stolen will be the combined value of all assets you stole in every theft.

Some of the types of theft that result in California petty theft charges include:

  • Theft by trick
  • Theft by embezzlement
  • Theft by false pretense
  • Theft by larceny

Penalties Attracted by Petty Theft

The crime in question is a misdemeanor. If convicted, you will spend six months in jail and pay a fine of one thousand dollars.

At times, the judge might award the accused person with summary probation instead of incarceration.

A conviction does not carry an adverse immigration penalty.

Fighting Petty Theft Charges

Regardless of the severe penalties of petty theft, you could challenge the allegations by raising valid legal defenses. Your criminal defense attorney can help you get the criminal charges reduced or dismissed.

Common legal defenses to petty theft allegations include:

  • You acted with the property owner's permission — It is a defense for you to prove that you had permission from the owner. For instance, you can claim that you took the asset because you were getting it for the owner.
  • You borrowed that property — The intention to deprive the owner of their property is one of the elements of the crime. Therefore, it is an effective defense for you to demonstrate that you were borrowing the property and would return it following a temporary use.
  • You can also claim that you thought you were entitled to the asset you took even when your belief was unreasonable or mistaken.

Grand Theft (PC 487)

Grand theft is the illegal taking of another person's labor, property, or money whose value is above nine hundred and fifty dollars.

A perfect example is breaking into your neighbor's home and stealing jewelry worth two thousand dollars.

Violation of California Penal Code section 487 is a wobbler. The prosecution team has the discretion of filing either a felony or misdemeanor based on the following factors:

  • The value of the property in question
  • How the alleged crime was executed, including use of threat of violence or violence to the victim
  • The defendant's criminal record

A misdemeanor conviction carries a year in county jail. On the other hand, a felony is punishable by:

  • A year in jail and felony probation, or
  • A maximum of three years in jail if the defendant did not use any firearm

If the defendant used a firearm, the crime is a felony punishable by sixteen months, two years, and three years in state prison.  It is also a strike.

Penalty Enhancement

On top of the penalties mentioned above, if you are convicted of a felony, you could face an additional sentence if the property's value is high. Here are the potential enhancements for PC 487 of high-value assets:

  • An additional year if the property's value is above $65,000
  • Other two years if the worth of the property exceeds $200,000
  • Additional and consecutive three years if the value of the asset is at least $1,300,000
  • Additional four years if the asset has a worth above $3,200,000

California Extortion Laws (PC 518)

PC 518 makes it illegal to apply threats or force to compel a person to hand over property or money or even cause a public officer to perform official conduct.

Before convicting you, the prosecution should establish the following facts of the crime:

  • You threatened to do any of the below to the victim:
    1. Commit an illegal injury or apply force against them, their property, a third individual
    2. Accuse them of an offense or accuse their family members of an offense
    3. Reveal secrets involving the., their family members, or link them to scandal, disgrace, or crime
  • When making your threats or apply force, you planned to coax the alleged victim into agreeing to give the property or money or to engage in official conduct
  • Due to the threat, the alleged victim gave you property, funds or performed formal conduct
  • Then the alleged victim gave you property or money or performed the official conduct

Additionally, you can commit this crime by using a threatening letter and acquiring a signature.

Please note that extortion is a specific intent offense, and you should have:

  • The desire to violate the law, and
  • Intention to realize specific results.

Consequences of PC 518 Conviction

Extortion is a felony. If convicted, you will pay a fine of ten thousand dollars and face four years of incarceration.

It is a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) and has a negative immigration consequence. That means a non-citizen can be marked as inadmissible or deported if convicted.

Also, a conviction carries adverse effects on your gun rights.

Fighting Extortion Charges

Your legal counsel can use numerous strategies to challenge the criminal charge. These legal defenses include:

  • You did not use threats or force — One of the elements of the crime is that the defendant threatens somebody else or uses force against the alleged victim. That means it is a valid legal defense for you to claim that you did use threats or force.
  • You were falsely accused — It's not uncommon for people to be falsely accused of extortion due to ill will, vengeance, or jealousy. In that case, you can raise the defense that the victim unjustly blamed you.
  • The alleged victim didn't engage in the conduct they agreed to — To be convicted of this crime, the victim must give up their property or money. Therefore, it is a defense if the alleged victim did not do the consented conduct.

California Burglary (PC 459)

To be convicted of burglary, the prosecution should establish the following:

  • You entered a room within a building, building, structure, or locked car,
  • when you entered a room within a building, building, structure, or locked car, you planned to commit a theft or felony, and
  • At least one of the following things are correct:
    1. The worth of the asset that you stole or planned to steal exceeded $950,
    2. The structure that you entered wasn't a commercial establishment, or
    3. The building you entered was a commercial establishment, but you got into it outside of business hours.

Please note that you can be convicted of the crime immediately you enter the building planning to commit a theft or California felony. It is not necessarily that you succeeded in committing the theft or felony.

There are two types of burglary, namely:

  • First-degree burglary — Also known as residential burglary, it happens in residence.
  • Second-degree burglary (commercial burglary) — It happens in commercial buildings.

A residence can be an inhabited house, boat, floating boat, trailer coach, hotel room, or a room in an occupied building. The word "inhabited" implies that an individual dwells in the structure. It does not mean that that person must be home during the commission of the crime.

Burglary Penalties

The penalties of a burglary conviction depend on whether you are found guilty of commercial burglary or residential burglary.

  1. Residential Burglary

Residential burglary is a felony. A conviction carries the following penalties:

  • Felony probation
  • Up to six years in state prison
  • $10,000 in fines

It is also a California strike.

  1. Commercial Burglary

Penalties for commercial burglary are less severe than those of residential burglary.

Second-degree burglary is a wobbler. If charged with a misdemeanor, you will face the following punishment:

  • Misdemeanor probation
  • A year in jail
  • One thousand dollars in fine

A felony conviction attracts the following:

  • Formal probation
  • A fine of $10,000
  • A three-year county jail sentence

Fighting California Burglary Charges

Although burglary penalties are severe, the burden to prove your guilt falls on the prosecution team. There are also various legal defenses that your experienced defense attorney can use to assist you to beat your criminal charges, including:

  • Absence of intent
  • Factual innocence
  • Mistake of fact
  • Police misconduct

Shoplifting Law

PC 459.5 defines shoplifting as entering a commercial business while it is open during regular business hours intending to steal property whose worth is less than nine hundred and fifty dollars.

You don't need to leave the business with the stolen merchandise to be found guilty.

Violating this law is a California misdemeanor. The offense is punishable by fines of one thousand dollars and a six-month county jail custody.

Additionally, the alleged victim can choose to make a civil demand under PC 490.5.

What a Loss Prevention Officer is Permitted to Do

A loss prevention officer is a private security guard employed to deter shoplifting by monitoring shoppers. The officer is different from a law enforcer and cannot arrest a shoplifting suspect.

However, they can engage in the following if they think you are stealing:

  • Request to look into your bag, but you can refuse
  • Detain you for a reasonable time
  • Apply reasonable force to detain you
  • Require you to stay with them until the police arrive
  • Do not tell the loss prevention officer anything until you talk to your defense attorney.

Defending Shoplifting Charges

Commit an illegal injury or apply force against them, their property, a third individual

Shoplifting requires the specific criminal intent to steal before entering the business. Thus, your criminal defense lawyer can argue that you designed the plan to steal once you got into the store. Although the defense can lead to a petty theft conviction, it can avoid a shoplifting conviction in some cases.

If you intended to pay for a product you were carrying in your pocket while in the store or forgot to pay for the item, you could raise a mistake as a legal defense.

Moreover, you can use any of the non-technical legal defenses to fight your criminal allegations:

  • You can use civil compromise. It is an agreement between the defendant and the alleged victim where the accused agree to pay the cost incurred due to their conduct. In return, the business decides not to take legal action against the shoplifter.
  • Diversion program — If accepted into the diversion program, you should comply with the court-ordered conditions like paying restitution and community service. Once you complete the terms, the case will be dismissed, and you won't have a criminal record.

Find a Proficient Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me  

If you have been charged with a property crime, your criminal case will start with an arrest and might conclude with a case dismissal or a conviction. The criminal judicial process can be stressful and confusing. Your freedom is at stake, and a conviction can result in community service, hefty fines, probation, job loss, and incarceration. You should take the first course of action after being charged with a property crime by calling a knowledgeable and trusted defense lawyer. When you talk with one of the attorneys at California Criminal Lawyer Group, we can listen to you to understand your situation. You can count on us to offer you practical legal counsel and advice. Call us today at 714-766-0965 to schedule your free, no-obligation, confidential case review.