Vista Criminal Attorney Law Firm is an experienced criminal defense law firm that serves clients in Vista CA and surrounding areas. Our firm has attorneys who are well-versed with criminal defense law and represent defendants in trials for criminal offenses, specifically, theft crimes. There are possible defense strategies applicable in theft crimes. One significant defense is to argue that the alleged theft occurred under duress or out of an honest misunderstanding. But before staging a successful defense, our attorneys analyze the specific details revolving the alleged crime.

What are Theft Crimes under California Law?

Penal Code 484 provides the crime elements surrounding theft. However, the state classifies theft crimes under two broad categories – petty theft and grand theft. Petty theft is the stealing of low-value property. For a charge to be considered as a petty theft, the associated amount valuation must be less than $950. In cases where the alleged theft involves property worth more than $950, courts treat the offense as grand theft under penal code 487. Grand theft is a felony offense and attracts penalties that may include fines, restitution, prison terms, probation, and permanent criminal record that can affect someone’s life (for instance, by limiting chances for subsequent employment).

Despite the fact that theft crimes are broadly categorized into petty and grand thefts, there exist other types of theft cases:

  • Lost property appropriation
  • Custody of stolen property
  • Grand theft auto
  • U.S mail theft
  • Auto burglary
  • Grand theft firearms
  • Embezzlement

Attorneys argue that defendants charged with theft crimes are usually a product of mistaken identity. Also, the offense could have been committed without intent, especially for first-time defenders. These scenarios make most people victims of misleading evidences. The judge may, therefore, be expected to pronounce the accused guilty after undoubted proof that the defendant committed the crime intentionally. On the other hand, attorneys examine the raw facts surrounding the defendant's accusation to easily navigate through a trial and secure reduced charges or a dismissal if possible.

Theft accusations may easily implicate one's possibility of state licensing and other public benefits. Moreover, the accusations are also harmful to one's possibility of gaining future employment. The judge may decide dismiss to a theft trial depending on the circumstances of the case. However, the effects will surface during background checks; employment agencies and companies tend to sideline people with a history of theft accusation since a past theft accusation may signal the possibility of embezzling or stealing from the employer. Generally, theft crimes in California are examples of moral turpitude crimes. Moral turpitude crimes are theft convictions that attract denial of licenses and certifications. Crimes of moral turpitude also poses immigration hurdles while applying for green cards, visas, or naturalization.

Proposition 47 for Theft Crimes

Proposition 47 is a ballot initiative that transformed the way a number of offenses were charged. The aim of the initiative was to reduce charges, for instance, from serious charges to misdemeanors. Proposition 47 was supported by voters in 2014 and has helped reduce the burden on defendants by offering reduced jail terms. The bill redesigned some of the criminal offenses from wobbler status to misdemeanors; petty theft penalties were resentenced to include up to one year of county jail term and/or fines of up to $1000.

Even though the bill provided first time defendants with an opportunity to be convicted of a misdemeanor when charged with felony/wobbler offenses, some charges would still be convicted as felonies. The felony conviction would apply to defendants that had faced past trials in crimes such as rape, murder, or sex offenses. The similar degree of conviction when dealing with theft cases under proposition 47 would apply to defendants previously required to register as sex offenders. California crimes listed under proposition 47 include.

  1. Grand-theft firearm
  2. Grand-theft auto
  3. Shoplifting
  4. Receiving custody of stolen property
  5. California Forgery
  6. Bad checks California law
  7. Controlled Substances possession
  8. Concentrated Cannabis possession
  9. Uncontrolled Possession of methamphetamine.

While the judge may treat the crimes as misdemeanors as listed on the bill, the law requires the defendant to apply for resentencing. Having a successful application for resentencing translates to being convicted of a misdemeanor (known as misdemeanor shoplifting) rather than a felony. When already convicted for a jail term, the court would reconsider an earlier release or automatic termination of your court sentence.

Petty Theft under California Law

A large percentage of reported petty theft crimes have characteristics of a shoplifting offense; both offenses involve property valuation of 950 dollars or below. Petty theft is any crime that occurs if the following statements hold true with evidence:

  1. Valuation of the property in question is $950 or less;
  2. The associated property must not have been taken from another person either through mugging or robbery;
  3. The property stolen, despite having a valuation of less than $950, should not be a gun, a firearm, or an automobile;
  4. There must have been an intention to commit theft. The prosecutor must show that the theft was not a mistake or committed under duress.

Petty theft is usually convicted as a misdemeanor. When the defendant is a first time offender and the valuation of the associated property is below than $50, the petty theft is charged as an infraction. Infractions are usually actions that are charged with fines and are not treated as criminal offenses. Rather, infractions are treated as an infringement against set terms and conditions. In fact, the judge may provide a dismissal for a first time offender through a diversion program. To qualify for the diversion program, the following criteria must hold:

  1. The defendant is a first time offender and the valuation should be $50 or less;
  2. The defendant must pay back to the accuser the stolen property;
  3. The defendant must commit to attending anti-theft classes;
  4. The defense attorney can also strike a deal with the prosecutor that would see the petty theft charges erased from the criminal history of a first-time defendant with over $50 in stolen property or money. This is known as an informal diversion program.

The penalty for petty theft normally involves fines and/ or jail terms. Petty theft offenders are usually charged fines that may not exceed $1000. The jail term normally goes up to six months in a county jail. The jury could sentence the defendant to a jail term that exceeds one year where he/she has a past theft criminal record. The criminal record must prove that the convict received a jail term as punishment.

Prosecutors must establish each of the following statements to show proof that the defendant committed theft.

  1. the accused took ownership of the stolen property;
  2. he/she took the property without prior permission from the owner;
  3. he/she had the intent to deprive the owner of his property;
  4. he/she took the property in close proximity from the owner, without permission, even for a short time;
  5. The valuation of stolen property was $950 and less.

Petty Theft Related Crimes

There are crimes charged under the petty theft statute. However, for the crimes to be charged as a related petty theft crime, the stolen property must not exceed $950.

Theft by Trick: Theft by trick is an offense that involves someone tricking another person into handing them property with the intent of using the property for a short time. But instead of submitting back the property within the agreed time, the person keeps the property permanently. A real-life instance would involve a man leaving his television with a technician for repair but eventually, the technician refuses to give back the television.

Theft by Pretense: Theft by pretense occurs when someone illegally acquired property from an owner through a false claim. For instance, a woman impersonates a theatre hall attendant and sell tickets to attending audience. The woman perhaps prints fake tickets resulting in the buyers being denied entry into the theatre. Such an act of theft through impersonation is referred to as theft via false pretense.

Theft through embezzlement: This occurs when someone decides to convert ownership of property entrusted to them. Embezzlement is white collar crime as it involves someone entrusted with property. The stolen property might be through authorized access to client or organization accounts.

Grand Theft under California Law

When the amount of stolen property or money exceeds $950, the offense is termed as grand theft. An act of grand theft can be committed through larceny by trickery, larceny by embezzlement, or larceny by falsification. Intent to deprive off someone else property must exist for a crime to be charged as grand theft. Grand theft is treated as a wobbler. Meanwhile, the jury's case determination depends on the defendant's criminal history. The circumstance surrounding how the theft occurred also influences how the crime will be treated (whether the court will treat it as a misdemeanor or a felony). For a crime to be considered as a grand theft the following elements must apply.

  1. The defendant took property that belongs to someone else without consent
  2. The defendant’s intention was to deprive the owner of his own property
  3. The defendant moved the alleged property just a brief distance from where the property was for any period of time.

A grand theft should also be accompanied by any of the following facts