If you or a loved one have been recently arrested on the charge of grand theft in Los Angeles or throughout California, you are facing potentially dire consequences upon a conviction. Long terms in county jail or state prison are possible punishments, and only by enlisting the help of a skilled criminal defense lawyer can you maximize your chances of a favorable outcome to your case.
At the Criminal Law Office of Leah Legal, we have the long experience, legal expertise, and intricate knowledge of the L.A. and Southern California court system to fight for and get the best possible outcome to your case. We put ourselves in your shoes and fight tenaciously for your future as if it were for our own, because that is the value we believe each and every client deserves.
For a free legal consultation and immediate attention to your case, do not hesitate to call us anytime 24/7 at 818-484-1100.
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How Is Grand Theft Defined in California?
In California, grand theft is defined under Penal Code Section 487 as the "unlawful taking of the property of another person when that property is valued at over $950."
Grand theft can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the facts of the case and on the criminal history of the defendant. A conviction can bring not only incarceration but also loss of professional licenses and a permanently damaged reputation.
Types of Grand Theft
While the basic definition of grand theft given above is accurate, it is important to know that there are a number of different specific types of grand theft charges, each differing in regard to the manner in which the theft was carried out.
The basic types of grand theft under California law are as follows:
- Larceny: When grand theft is committed by means of larceny, the physical carrying away of the stolen goods is involved.
Grand larceny includes the following elements which must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt: taking of another's property valued over $950 without permission, with intent to deprive the owner of all or a significant portion of its value, and while moving the taken property any significant distance, for even a short period of time.
- False Pretenses (Penal Code section 532): When false pretenses are used to commit grand theft, the crime is defined as purposefully deceiving another person by giving them false information that is presented as true in order to gain possession/ownership of property with the owner's permission.
"Recklessly asserting a thing as true with no basis for believing it to be true, failing to give out legally required, important information, or making promises with no intent to keep them can all also count as ‘false pretenses’." It is required, however, that the false pretense was relied on by the property's owner as one major factor in making the decision to dispense with his/her property.
In addition, either a document of some kind (a false token) that puts the false pretense into writing, two witnesses to a verbally given false pretense, or one witness along with another form of evidence are necessary for a conviction. This requirement exists to guard against letting those who hand over property 100% legally simply changing their minds later and accusing the other party of using false pretenses in order to get their property back.
- Grand Theft by Trick: This class of grand theft is very similar to grand theft by false pretense, but it differs in several respects. It involves taking possession of the property by means of trickery and deceit but where the owner never intended to give up ownership of his/her property.
Thus, with grand theft by trick, the perpetrator may have used some form of cunning to lure the owner into signing away the property without even realizing he/she was doing so; while with grand theft by false pretense, the owner knew what he/she was doing but did so based on the false information provided.
With grand theft by trick, it must be shown that the defendant knew that the property was owned by the other person and knew he/she lacked permission to take it. Otherwise, it would be only a mistake or a misunderstanding.
- Embezzlement: When over $950 is wrongfully taken by someone who was entrusted with said property by its owner and given permission to manage it on behalf of the owner, it is grand theft by embezzlement.
The property must, however, have been taken or used in a fraudulent manner so as to benefit the person put in trust of the property instead of its owner.
And there must have been an intention to deprive the owner of his/her property, whether permanently or for a limited time only. The intention to return the embezzled property does not exonerate, though that could later on become a mitigating factor that might help the defendant get a lesser punishment.
Finally, note that the jury need not agree on which type of grand theft was committed in order to convict, so long as they agree that some form of grand theft did occur. If, however, the jury cannot decide on whether it was grand or petty theft, only a petty theft conviction will hold.
Grand Theft vs. Petty Theft
Petty theft and grand theft are generally exactly equivalent under California law except for the property stolen being above or below the mark of $950.
However, before Prop 47 passed in 2014, grand theft automatically applied to crimes where the stolen property was, or at least included, any of the following:
- A firearm
- An automobile
- Valuable animals like horses and pigs
It was also automatically grand theft if the property was taken directly off the victim's person (body, clothing, or held container).
Today, the above-mentioned aggravating factors can still turn petty theft to grand theft (even without the value of the property being over $950), provided the defendant has a sex crime or serious felony crime on his/her criminal record, but not otherwise.
The theft of an automobile will normally be grand theft, however, if the car is of relatively small value, it would be petty theft.
Additionally, if one embezzles money from the same source in numerous small transactions that add up to over $950 across a one-year period, it will be grand theft.
Possible Penalties for Grand Theft
Grand theft (PC 487) can be either a felony or misdemeanor in most situations. When charged as a misdemeanor, it is punishable by up to 12 months in county jail. When charged as a felony, it is punishable by 16 months to 3 years in prison OR up to 12 months of probation.
In the case of committing grand theft by means of or while in possession of a firearm (grand theft firearm), you will always face a felony charge. This can get you 16 months to 3 years in state prison, and it will also be a strike on your criminal record under California's Three Strikes Law (which is not true of most other grand theft felonies).
Besides the "basic" punishments for grand theft convictions, the sentence can also be enhanced with extra time in prison if it is a felony charge and if the value of the property is exceptionally high.
The enhancement schedule runs as follows:
- For property valued over $65,000, an extra year in state prison.
- For property valued over $200,000, two extra years in prison.
- For property valued over $1.3 million, three extra years.
- For property valued over $3.2 million, four extra years.
Also note that all pieces of property taken under a "common scheme" will be added together for purposes of determining the value stolen in an "act of theft." And if there were two or more schemes involved, you can be charged with multiple counts of grand theft and get jail/prison time for each count.
When the property stolen over $950 in value was an automobile, you will be charged with grand theft auto under California Penal Code section 487.d.1. The charge is not essentially different than grand theft in general, but it can result in a somewhat different penalty. Most likely, it will be a steeper penalty since grand theft auto is usually charged as a felony. A good attorney may be able to get the charge reduced, however, to Vehicle Code Section 10851 – joyriding - in a plea deal in some cases.
Petty Theft Charges
Again, petty theft (PC 484 and 488) is basically identical to grand theft (PC 487) except for the value of the property being valued at $950 or less.
However, there are cases where the value of the property is a point of contention. If goods had not been appraised for many years before being stolen, the owner may have had a too-high estimate of their value. Depreciation could have set in and/or the items may have been in imperfect condition.
A charge reduction to petty theft could lessen the sentence to a fine of up to $1,000 and/or a maximum of 6 months in county jail.
Also note, however, that "petty theft with a prior", Penal Code section 666, can result in more severe punishments than for simple petty theft. If the defendant has a previous violent crime, sex offense, or a theft-related elder abuse conviction on his/her record, it is possible for even petty theft to become a felony and lead to penalties not too distant from those for some grand theft convictions.
Common Grand Theft Defense Strategies
At Leah Legal Criminal Defense, we always take the time to painstakingly investigate and analyze each case we take on and to build a solid, "customized" defense that maximizes your chances of securing the most favorable outcome possible. Yet, over our years of serving the Los Angeles community, we have also become fully familiar with the most effective common defense strategies used in grand theft cases. These include:
- Lack of Intent: No matter if you took property or of what value it was, it you had not intention of stealing the property, it is not theft - much less grand theft. A mistake of some kind may have occurred, and however absent-minded or inexcusable it may have been, it is not theft if it lacked intent to steal.
- Claim of Right: It may be that you did (or even still do) claim the property in question as your own. If you honestly believed it to be yours and that belief was "reasonable", it is not theft, even if the belief was wrong. If you tried to hide the fact that you had taken the property, however, this defense will not be available.
- Owner's Consent: If you had or reasonably believed yourself to have the permission of the owner to take the property in question, it is not theft. However, you cannot have used the property in a way inconsistent with your belief of what the owner gave you permission to do with his/her property.
- False Charges: It may be that you have been falsely accused of grand theft. Perhaps, the true thief or embezzler has framed you or someone who has a grudge against you is taking revenge. It could also be a case of mistaken identity, where the accusation is false even though the accuser honestly believes you to be guilty.
Contact Us Today for Help
At Leah Legal we have successfully handled numerous grand theft defense cases in Los Angeles and Southern California in the past, and we stand ready to come to your aid in your hour of need. Attorney Leah Naparstek will know how to build the best possible defense for your case and get you the best outcome possible, be that a dismissal, acquittal, or a reduced charge and/or sentence.
To learn more and to avail yourself of a free legal consultation, contact us anytime 24/7/365 by calling 818-484-1100.