Many people charged with theft crimes are good, productive citizens who made an unfortunate mistake and deserve a second chance rather than a permanent criminal record and jail time. Moreover, many innocent people are wrongly accused of theft crimes based on false allegations or misleading evidence.
A California theft related conviction can be particularly harmful in terms of gaining future employment, state licensing and other benefits. Although most theft convictions can eventually be expunged, they will still surface on background checks. Employers tend to shy away from applicants with theft records, fearing them to be dishonest and having the potential to steal from their companies. Furthermore, most California theft offenses are considered "crimes of moral turpitude." This means that state license boards will often cite theft convictions as a reason to deny licenses and certifications. In addition, these convictions may also have immigration consequences for immigrants seeking a visa, green card or naturalization to the United States.
At Leah Legal, we understand the gravity of facing a theft crime charge and the long-term effect the outcome of your case can have on your life and livelihood. We have a long track record of successfully defeating these sorts of charges and of winning the best possible outcome to each case, be that a summary dismissal of the charges, a courtroom acquittal win, or a favorable plea deal that reduces your charge and/or sentence.
Below, for your benefit, we cover the basic of what constitutes a California theft crime, what are the common types of theft crimes, which defense strategies can be effective against a theft charge, and more.
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COMMON CALIFORNIA THEFT CRIMES
Theft is the taking of another person’s property without his or her consent. The crime of theft is a rather broad one; there are various ways in which a person can commit theft, and each one is its own specific crime.
Some theft crimes are distinguished by the value of the property stolen, others by the nature of the property stolen, and still others by the manner in which property not yours came into your possession. And theft crimes can be everything from minor misdemeanors to serious felonies, with penalty severity being correspondingly diverse.
This is the stealing of property valued up to $950. Although the offense is generally classified as a misdemeanor, a second offense can be charged as a felony.
Grand theft is the stealing of property valued at more than $950. While it is a “wobbler” and can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, the majority of grand theft charges are considered felonies.
Grand Theft of a Firearm
Any theft of a firearm counts as grand theft, regardless of the value of the gun. This offense is a felony if the firearm is more than $950 in value.
Grand Theft Auto
California law treats theft of an automobile as grand theft if the value is more than $950.
Entering a structure with the intent to commit a felony or theft inside constitutes a burglary. If the structure is a home or "inhabited dwelling," residential burglary may be charged. This would count as a "strike" pursuant to California Three Strikes Laws.
Breaking into a locked vehicle for the purpose of stealing it constitutes auto burglary under California law.
Robbery is the use of violence, force or threats to take property from someone's immediate possession. This too counts as a strike under California Three Strikes Laws.
This is basically robbery of a vehicle. If one uses force or fear to take a vehicle from someone's immediate possession, a California carjacking may be charged.
An individual who wrongfully steals or misappropriates property entrusted to him by the rightful owner may be charged with embezzlement.
Receiving Stolen Property
This occurs when someone purchases or receives property that he/she knows or reasonably should know is stolen.
Passed by California voters in November 2014, Proposition 47 turned a number of felony crimes into misdemeanors. If you have been convicted of felony burglary, receiving stolen property, check fraud, forgery, grand theft firearm or grand theft auto, you may be eligible to have your felony sentence reduced per Proposition 47.
SHOPLIFTING LAW IN CALIFORNIA
Another area where California has reformed its theft laws is that of shoplifting. Mostly, shoplifting is now charged as a misdemeanor and is distinguished from burglary. To be guilty, you must have entered a commercial building with the intention to steal, during business hours, and have taken or intended to take nothing over the value of $950. If you have previous shoplifting or other theft convictions, shoplifting could be charged as a felony, but otherwise, it’s almost always a misdemeanor offense.
PENALTIES FOR THEFT CRIMES
While the penalties for theft crimes vary greatly, the penalties for embezzlement, forgery, and writing bad checks, as well as the majority of theft-related offenses, may include state or federal prison, community service, formal probation, informal probation, and/or parole. Theft crimes also tend to have financial ramifications in the event of a conviction. Court fines and restitution are often mandatory, and an experienced attorney can guide and advise you from a financial perspective how to lessen the impact of these collateral consequences.
By skilled negotiations, we at Leah Legal often get penalties and charges reduced even where a complete victory (via a dismissal or acquittal) is impossible. We fight for and obtain, again and again, the best possible outcome to the cases we take on. We have often helped our clients avert spending actual time behind bars, won more lenient probation terms, and helped avert the creation of a permanent criminal record.
What Must the Prosecutor Prove?
To prove you guilty of a California theft crime, the prosecutor must demonstrate all of the following elements of the crime true beyond all reasonable doubt:
- You took into your possession property that belonged to another person.
- You took the property in question without the consent of the owner.
- You had an intent to keep the taken property either permanently or for a "significant amount of time."
- You moved the property and kept it in your possession.
But as straightforward as these elements of the crime of theft might seem at first glance, their precise definitions and applications can be difficult to nail down or to prove in a specific case. A good defense attorney won’t let the prosecutor get away with a win based on weak or merely circumstantial evidence. At Leah Legal, we will ensure that nothing short of the high bar of “beyond all reasonable doubt” is treated in the courtroom as if it were fact.
For example, if property actually belonged to you, you had a reasonable belief at the time that it belonged to you, or if it was jointly owned by you and your accuser, that challenges the first element that you took property belonging to another.
And, similarly, if you reasonably thought you had the owner’s consent or had no intent to keep the property, that also can thwart the prosecution’s case.
But realize that, in regard to moving and keeping the property, it is not required that it was moved very far or kept for very long. And you can’t use the defense that you stole property only to “collect on a debt the owner owed you.” Thus, to challenge the prosecutor’s attempt to prove the four elements of the crime of “theft,” you’ll need a skilled theft crimes defense attorney who knows what works and what doesn’t.
DEFENSES FOR THEFT CRIMES
It is important that an attorney helps you to strategize about possible defenses to theft accusations, including mistake of fact, business relationships gone awry, and simple human error.
Sometimes the prosecution's evidence may be overwhelming. Even then, an aggressive criminal defense lawyer can often negotiate an arrangement with the judge or prosecutor to get the theft charges reduced or dismissed. This is especially true in first offense theft cases, where the client has no record and just made a bad mistake. If a defendant agrees to repay the victim and to do a course of community service or theft counseling, it is oftentimes possible to convince the D.A. or the court to drop the charges and spare the client the stigma of a permanent criminal record.
Here are some of our most commonly used theft crime defense strategies in more detail:
- Lack of “Specific Intent:” No matter which theft crime you are being accused of, you must have specifically intended to commit the theft to be guilty of it. Otherwise, it was an accident or misunderstanding.
- Lack of “Asportation:” In legal terminology, “asportation” means that a piece of property was cut off from the owner’s possession, came into the full possession of the taker, and was moved in the process, even if only slightly. If any of these things did not occur, it cannot be considered a true theft under California law.
- Right of Ownership: It is not uncommon for a person to be accused of stealing his or her own property. Maybe it was lent out and you came to recover your goods, for example. Plus, if you believed it was your property, it is not theft even if you were mistaken.
- Lack of False Pretense: If you are charged with theft by false pretense (PC 484), the charge will not stick if it can be shown you gave information in good faith, even if you were mistaken. And you can’t be blamed for withholding information you were not obligated to give out. Plus, if you made a promise you intended to keep, you cannot be convicted of theft by false pretense simply because you failed to keep that promise.
- Consent to Transfer Ownership: In cases where theft by trick is charged (often in relation to real estate), you cannot be guilty if you can prove that the owner actually did intend to transfer ownership of the property in question.
- Proof of Permission: If you are charged with embezzlement of property entrusted to you, one defense you may be able to use against that charge is that you had valid legal permission to use the property for your own benefit or for the purpose for which you used it.
- Authorization of Use: In many grand theft (especially grand theft auto) cases, it can be a defense that you had or reasonably thought you had the permission of the owner to use the property in question. If you had no intent to keep the property and deprive the owner of it and merely used it in a way you had or believed you had permission to, it is not theft.
Contact Us Today For Immediate Help
At Leah Legal, we understand the urgency that you feel when suddenly charged with a California theft crime. We also understand that the complexity of the legal system and of local L.A. Area court processes means that without an experienced lawyer, it would be almost impossible to effectively fight the charges brought against you.
We have deep experience in defending against all manner of theft crimes charges in Los Angeles and Southern California courts, and we stand ready to rush to your aid with top-tier legal advice and representation.
If you are under investigation, or are facing theft charges, call Leah Legal at (818) 484-1100 today for a free, confidential initial consultation.