In California, theft is defined as taking property belonging to another person without their consent. There are several categories of theft for which you can be charged depending on your actions' circumstances. Theft can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony deepening on the value of the property in question. A theft charge can result in severe legal penalties, including a prison sentence and hefty fines.
Understanding the different forms of theft and the acts that lead up to these charges is crucial when you are battling a theft charge. If you, your spouse, or a loved one faces criminal theft charges in Anaheim, CA, you want to seek expert legal guidance. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we will offer you the much-needed legal advice and representation to help you fight the criminal charges.
Overview of Theft Crimes
Taking property belonging to another person to deprive them of its enjoyment could attract arrest and criminal theft charges. Theft is classified under several categories depending on how you committed the crime. Also, the value of the property may play a significant role in your case.
For theft crimes, the property can be defined broadly and may include movable and immovable items. Some of the examples of property that could be taken away and attract theft charges include:
- Real property that cannot be moved, such as a piece of land
- Tangible property that can be transferred, such as computers or vehicles
- Legal documents and certificates
- Personal services such as food service
Generally, theft crimes lie under two main categories:
1. Grand Theft
Under Penal Code 487, you commit a crime of grand theft when you take another person's property or money without their consent. The property that qualifies for grand theft must be $950 or more in value. Also, theft of vehicles or guns is classified under this category regardless of the item’s value. Grand theft is a basis for convicting many theft crimes involving pretense, trick, or physically obtaining property. Before you are conviction of violating CPC 487, the prosecution must prove that:
- You took property. For theft crimes, taking something constitutes moving it a distance away from its owner.
- The property belonged to someone else. You can be charged with grand theft even when you did not physically take something in the presence of the owner.
- You obtained the property with no consent. Lack of consent is a crucial element used when convicting defendants of theft crimes.
- You took away the property or money, intending to deprive the owner of its enjoyment. It is crucial to understand that an intention to give back the property cannot defend yourself against grand theft.
Violation of Penal Code 487 is a felony punishable by a three-year prison sentence and $5,000 in fines.
2. Petty Theft
Taking away property or items worth $950 or less without the owner's consent is classified under CPC 488, petty theft. In a petty theft criminal case, the prosecutor needs to establish that you took property whose value does not exceed $950 and you lacked consent from the owner. Violation of Penal Code 488 is a misdemeanor, and a conviction will result in a six-month jail sentence or a $ 1,000 fine.
Sometimes you may not spend time in jail for a petty theft conviction. The court could sentence you to misdemeanor probation as an alternative to the jail sentence. While on probation, the court could impose strict rules that you need to follow, failure to which a jail sentence is reinstated.
If you are arrested or under suspicion for theft, you will need competent legal guidance.
Common Theft Crimes in California
Under California law, there are many different levels of theft that carry a distinct range of penalties. All types of theft offenses are centered on petty or grand theft. However, the category of theft crime you are charged with will depend on the situation's specific circumstances. When you are arrested for depriving another person of the enjoyment of their property, you could be charged the following crimes:
Penal Code 211 criminalizes the use of threats or force to take property belonging to another person. For you to be guilty under Penal Code 211, you must have decided to commit robbery before taking the property. The prosecution must establish these elements before securing a conviction for robbery:
- You took property that belonged to another.
- The property you took was in someone else's immediate possession.
- You took the property against the other person's will.
- You used threats, force, or fear to prevent resistance.
- You had an intent to deprive the owner of the enjoyment of the property.
Robbery is considered a felony when prosecuted in the first or second degree. When you are convicted for the first-degree violation of PC 211, you risk facing a nine-year sentence and a $10,000 fine. On the other hand, a second-degree robbery is punishable by a five-year sentence and a $10,000 fine. If you cause severe bodily injury to another person in the course of the robbery, your charges may be aggravated and your penalty enhanced. If you or your loved one faces robbery charges, seeking legal guidance is one of the best decisions you can make for your case.
Petty Theft with a Prior
Under Penal Code 666, you can be charged with petty theft with a prior if you engage in petty theft while having certain prior criminal offenses. You receive an enhancement for a petty theft crime if you have a prior conviction for a theft crime, you served time in jail, or you have a prior conviction for a violent offense. Even though petty theft is charged as a misdemeanor, petty theft with a prior is considered a wobbler.
In California, you commit burglary when you enter a structure, whether residential or commercial, intending to commit grand theft or petty theft. Entry to a facility that qualifies as burglary does not have to be done forcefully. Under CPC 459, burglary can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the crime circumstances. Burglary can either be in a first or a second degree.
What is First Degree Burglary?
A first-degree burglary involves entering an inhabited residential area. You can be convicted for the first-degree burglary even when no one was inside the building. Burglary in the first degree is a felony in California, and a conviction attracts a prison sentence of two to six years. Often, probation is not an option for defendants convicted of this crime. Unless there are mitigating circumstances, you will serve a prison sentence for first-degree burglary.
Also, this crime is a strike in California's three-strikes law. Should you be convicted of two felony strikes, you risk facing twenty-five years to a life sentence.
Second Degree Burglary
Second-degree burglary involves entry into a commercial building or any other stricter that is not residential. Second-degree burglary is a wobbler. A felony conviction attracts a sentence not exceeding two years, and a misdemeanor is punishable by a jail sentence of one year or probation. It is crucial to understand that your actions within a burglary may affect the potential penalties.
CPC 503 defines embezzlement as the unlawful taking of property that has been entrusted to you to deprive the rightful owner of its use. A prosecutor must establish the following elements to prove your guilt under this statute:
- A property owner entrusted their property to you. A conviction for embezzlement requires the prosecutor to establish a relationship between you and the alleged victim. Embezzlement often occurs in work setups.
- You fraudulently used or converted the property to your gain.
- You acted intending to deprive. You can only be guilty of embezzlement if you intended to deprive the property owner of the enjoyment of the property. You can be convicted regardless of whether your intent to deprive was temporary or permanent.
Depending on the value of the property you stole, embezzlement can be charged as grand theft or petty theft. A misdemeanor embezzlement conviction attracts a jail sentence not exceeding one year. When charged with a felony, the crime carries a three years jail sentence.
It is crucial to understand that an embezzlement conviction will have negative immigration consequences. If you are convicted for grand theft embezzlement, you could be deported or rendered inadmissible.
Misappropriation of Public Funds
When you use public funds for an unrelated public benefit or personal use, you can be charged under CPC 424. Misuse of public resources is a common crime charged against state public officials responsible and in control over the government funds. A prosecutor can prove you guilty under CPC 424 by establishing the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You are a state or local government official. Being an official of the government means that you were in a position of control over public money.
- You appropriated public money. Appropriation means using the money for your benefits.
- You acted with criminal negligence. The prosecutor needs to establish that you knew you couldn't appropriate the funds the way you did.
A public official can misuse public resources by:
- Loaning the public money without authority. Making unauthorized loans using public money could prompt an arrest and conviction for violating CPC 424.
- Creating fake accounts or destroying accounts. Fraudulently creating fake accounts or changing already existing accounts to defraud attracts charges for misappropriation of public resources.
- Failing to transfer public money as expected. If you are required to transfer funds that are in your control, you can be charged with a violation of PC 424.
Misuse of government money is a felony that attracts a jail sentence of two, three, or four years and fines not exceeding $10,000.
Burglary of a Safe or Vault
Generally, burglary involves entering a building, property, or enclosure to commit a theft crime. California PC 464 defines burglary of a safe or vault as the illegal entering a building intending to commit theft, and while in the building, you attempt to open the vault. You can face charges under PC 464 for using explosives, a blowing torch, or safe cracking to open the safe. You do not need to be successful in your attempt to be charged and convicted for burglary of a safe.
Burglary of a vault crime differs from general burglary in that you have to be successful in taking the property before facing a conviction under Penal Code 459. If you forcefully enter into a building and attempt to open the vault, you could face two separate criminal charges. Some of the factors that the prosecutor needs to establish in a Penal Code 464 case are:
- You did not have permission from the owner to enter the building or structure.
- The vault or safe you attempted to open was in a secured location. Vaults are often placed in secure places so that the people who access them are authorized. Trying to access a secured area, in this case, will attract PC 464 charges.
- The prosecutor needs to assert that you had an intention to crack or blow up the safe when you entered the building.
The use of explosives or acetylene torches to blow up a vault during a burglary will attract felony charges. A Penal Code 464 conviction will result in a seven years jail sentence or formal probation. Probation allows you to serve a portion of your sentence in the community under supervision.
Receiving Stolen Property
Penal Code 496 criminalizes the act of obtaining, withholding, buying, or selling property that you know has been stolen. The prosecution must prove the following elements to convict you of receiving stolen property:
- You received, bought, sold, or aided in concealing property that had been stolen. Property is considered stolen if it was obtained from a burglary or robbery. Also, you can be charged under PC 496 if you possess property obtained through extortion.
- When you received the property, you knew it was obtained through extortion or stolen. You can only be guilty of receiving stolen property if you knew it to be stolen and you went ahead to acquire it.
A violation of California Penal Code 496 can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on your case's circumstances. As a misdemeanor, a conviction for this offense will attract a jail sentence of one year, summary probation, or a $1,000 fine.
If you received stolen property worth more than $950, you would be charged with a felony and face a three-year prison sentence, felony probation, and fines not exceeding $10,000.
Felonious taking of a motor vehicle from another person's immediate possession against their will can prompt an arrest and conviction for carjacking. You can face criminal charges under Penal Code 215, even when the driver was not inside the vehicle. For carjacking, you may have an intention to permanently or temporarily deprive the person of its enjoyment. The specific elements of carjacking charges include:
- You took a vehicle belonging to someone else.
- You took the motor vehicle in the immediate presence of the person who possesses it.
- You employed force, fear, or threat to take away the vehicle.
- When you acted, you had the intention to deprive the owner of the vehicle. A carjacking case requires the prosecutor to establish your specific intent when you used force or fear.
Carjacking is a serious felony offense that results in a state prison sentence of three to nine years. Carjacking is a strike under California's three-strikes law.
Shoplifting is defined as entering an open business establishment to steal merchandise worth less than $950. To convict you of this crime, the prosecutor must prove that you entered a commercial establishment during working hours. Also, your intention to steal the property worth $950 or less must be clear. Shoplifting is charged as a misdemeanor. However, if you have a prior conviction for a sex offense or other serious crimes like murder, you can be charged with felony shoplifting.
Aggravating Factors for a Theft Sentence
The penalties you face after a conviction for theft could be increased depending on whether the crime is considered aggravated theft. Your crime is deemed to be aggravated if the following factors were involved:
- You used a deadly weapon to carry out the crime.
- You used threats or intimidation to take away property from the owner.
- You committed a crime theft to enhance gang activity, or a street gang organized the crime.
- The property you took belonged to the government.
Other than an increased fine and jail sentence, a conviction for aggravated theft will result in a permanent felony record. This could significantly affect your legal rights.
Legal Defenses against California Theft Crimes
Theft crimes encompass a wide range of charges that are tied to severe penalties after a conviction. Fortunately, some theft crimes are based on the victim's testimony, which may not always result in a conviction. Some of the common defenses available for theft crimes include:
Lack of a Specific Intent
The intent is a crucial element when proving a burglary case. When establishing your guilt for theft, the prosecutor has the burden to prove that you had an intention to deprive the owner of their property. Depending on the circumstances of the case, it can be challenging to establish intent. If the prosecution cannot prove the specific intent behind your actions, you cannot be convicted.
Actual Ownership of the Property
A theft crime constitutes taking property that belongs to another person. If you take away property that belongs to you, you cannot be found guilty of theft. However, when using this defense, the court requires you to prove property ownership, or you had a reasonable belief that you owned the property.
Authorization to Use the Property
One of the critical elements that constitute theft is the lack of consent to take away property belonging to another person. Sometimes, a person could give consent, then change their mind and accuse you of theft. You can fight the charges by arguing that the property owner consented to you taking the property.
Facing criminal accusations for something you did not do can be very disturbing. The thought that you could be convicted and face criminal consequences. You could be accused of a theft crime by an individual out of anger or jealousy. You can claim that you were falsely accused. Whether or not this defense works out depends on the evidence that the prosecutor has against you.
Most theft crimes occur during the night or in secluded areas. Therefore, it is expected that an eyewitness can mistakenly identify you as the perpetrator of the crime. Mistaken eyewitness identification is not necessarily intentional. By the time a witness makes a statement in court, they are sure that what they saw was correct. If there is no photographic or video evidence to prove that you committed the crime, you can use mistaken identity to fight the charges and avoid the consequences that accompany a criminal conviction.
Not all defenses are available for your situation. Your ability to employ a particular argument for your case depends on the specific facts of the case. If there are mitigating factors in your case, you could receive a lesser penalty.
Find a Criminal Attorney Near Me
Theft crimes range from misdemeanors to severe felonies. You can be charged with different theft crimes depending on the value of the item you took, your criminal record, and other case specifics. The consequences of a theft conviction in California go beyond a jail sentence and monetary fines. Having a theft conviction in your criminal record could deter your chances of securing a decent job. You can be arrested and charged with various theft-related crimes if you take property belonging to another person without their permission.
If you face theft charges, you need to take the situation seriously and seek legal guidance as soon as possible. A competent criminal attorney will guide you through the process of building a solid defense against the charges and avoid the penalties that accompany a conviction. If you or your loved one faces criminal charges in Anaheim, CA, it would be wise to seek legal guidance from the California Criminal Lawyer Group. Contact us at 714-766-0965 today to discuss the details of your case.