Taking something that doesn’t belong to you is against the law, but there are many distinctions among the various forms of theft under California law.
The one thing they have in common is that the punishment for a conviction is considerable. You face hefty fines, jail, or prison time, also other consequences. Regardless of whether the theft crime is a felony or misdemeanor, the conviction will remain part of your permanent criminal record.
Our team at the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, are prepared to fight for your rights, with more than 35 years of combined experience on our side. Please contact us to schedule a free consultation regarding your claim. We can explain how these cases work, and tell you how a theft attorney can greatly increase the chances of a favorable outcome.
Types of Theft Crimes in California
California uses the term “larceny” to cover a wide range of theft offenses, which are outlined in the general, catch-all law on theft, as well as in separate statutes pertaining to specific crimes. The details will vary according to the type of theft offense, but most involve basic elements that a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. The requirements are:
- The unlawful taking of property or an item of value, without the consent of the lawful owner; and,
- The intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property or item.
Beyond these factors, there may be additional elements depending on the form of theft. Examples of common theft crimes in California include:
Shoplifting: You could be charged with shoplifting if you enter a store, restaurant, or other commercial business during regular hours, and take merchandise without paying for it.
Robbery: This theft offense involves violence, force, or the threat of violence against someone to take property away from his or her immediate possession. Robbery may include stealing something from a victim’s hands, pockets, purse, backpack, or other items closely associated with personal space.
Receiving Stolen Property: You could be charged with this theft offense even if you’re nowhere in the vicinity of the actual theft. If you know that an item is stolen and you accept possession and/or ownership, you may be arrested for receiving stolen property.
Mail and Package Theft: So-called “porch pirates” have made headlines with the increased popularity of free shipping offers through online marketplaces. Taking mail or a package from someone’s mailbox or entry is a theft crime when you know the item doesn’t belong to you.
Embezzlement: This theft crime is unique because it involves a person taking property that, at some point in time, was rightfully under his or her control. Embezzlement is often a crime that takes place in the context of employment or corporate settings. An employee or executive is entrusted with safekeeping of the item by its lawful owner. Later, that individual converts the property for personal use, effectively stealing it from the owner.
Burglary is NOT a Theft Crime: To clear up confusion, it’s important to note that burglary is a separate offense from theft. Burglary is the equivalent of home invasion, where someone accesses a structure with the intent to commit a felony while inside. Theft may be the intended crime, but entering to commit assault, rape, or other offenses would also lead to burglary charges.
Petit Theft Versus Grand Theft
Regardless of the specific offense, theft crimes in California are charged and punished based upon the value of the stolen property. Therefore:
- You could be arrested for Petty Theft for taking property valued up to $950, a misdemeanor for first time offenders. If convicted, you face up to six months in jail, a fine up to $1,000, probation, or a combination of these. For items worth $50 or less, the prosecuting attorney may seek lesser charges and a lower fine of $250.
- Grand Theft is any crime that involves taking any property valued at $950 or more. Contrary to popular assumption, the item doesn’t need to be an auto. As a “wobbler” offense, grand theft may be charged as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances. A past criminal conviction might be grounds for a prosecutor to seek felony charges.
If charged as a misdemeanor, you face up to one year in jail and a fine. For an arrest for felony grand theft, your sentence may range up to three years in prison.
Defense Strategies for Theft Crimes
There are tactics for fighting theft offenses in California, and an attorney can explain in more detail. At the outset, the first strategy is exploiting the prosecuting attorney’s case-in-chief. The prosecution must prove each element of a theft crime, beyond a reasonable doubt, to secure a conviction. A defense lawyer can identify flaws in the state’s evidence, potentially obtaining a dismissal of the charges or a not guilty verdict.
In addition, there are certain defenses that may be available for your case, such as:
- A mistake regarding ownership;
- Lack of intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property;
- The value of the property, which could reduce the charges from grand to petty theft; or,
- A violation of your civil rights against unlawful search and seizure.
Schedule a Consultation with a Knowledgeable San Diego Attorney
Things may seem hopeless when you’ve been charged with a theft crime, but it’s always important to remember that you do have legal options.
It may be possible to defend the allegations, attack weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case, or seek lesser penalties through plea bargaining. You’re in a better position to achieve a positive outcome when you have experienced counsel to assist with your case.
For more information on theft crimes and potential defenses, please contact the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC,. We can set up a no-cost case evaluation to review theft charges and determine how to move forward with your case.