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 in order to qualify as a theft offense.

  1. The stolen property exceeds $950
  2. The associated property must not have been firearms or guns since the offense would be charged as a grand theft firearm
  3. The stolen property must not have been an automobile since the offense would be charged as a grand theft auto
  4. An agent, a servant, or an employee aggregates $950 and above from their employer either in labor, property, or money for a period covering up to 12 consecutive months.

 The penalty for grand theft, when charged as a misdemeanor, is a jail sentence of up to one year. The court may also impose a court fine of up to $1000. The jury may also convict the defendant to probation plus one year of county jail term. The penalty for grand theft, when treated as a felony, is a jail term of either sixteen months, two years, or three years. There exist penalty enhancements for grand theft offenses. The following list enumerates a number of those potential enhancements:

  1. Where the stolen property has incurred a loss exceeding $65,000, the court imposes an additional one-year prison sentence on top of the general convicted penalty;
  2. Where the stolen property exceeds the value of $200,000, the court imposes an additional term of two years on top of the prescribed conviction of a felony;
  3. Where the stolen property has incurred a loss exceeding the amount of $1,300,000, the court imposes an additional sentence term of three years in prison on top of the prescribed felony conviction;
  4. Where the stolen property exceeds $3,200,000, the court will impose an additional four years of prison term above the prescribed felony conviction.

Criminal Charges Related to Theft Crimes

Frequently asked questions on theft crimes seek to non-distinctively classify theft offenses with robbery, burglary, and financial white-collar crimes. A person convicted of theft may not necessarily be a burglar or robber. Below is an analyzed representation of the facts that surround theft related criminal charges.


Robbery is regarded as theft initiated through violence. A threat to cause violence while initiating an act of theft is enough to graduate the offense to robbery. The penalty for robbery is stricter than nonviolent theft. A more thorough type of robbery, dubbed as armed robbery, attracts a harsher penalty than the first-degree robbery. Causing emotional coercion to gain someone's property could also be termed as robbery. For instance, an armed police officer causing fear to a civilian so that he/she can give in their property would be a robbery case.


Burglary involves gaining illegal entry into a building for the purpose of committing a criminal offense. A burglar may break into a building with the intent to commit any other heinous felonies like murder or rape. On most occasions, the intent of the burglar is to commit theft inside the building. However, the incrimination of burglary would not involve the terms of a theft criminal offense. Burglary exist in two forms: First-degree burglary if the property is residential and second-degree burglary also termed as commercial burglary.

White-Collar Crimes

White-collar crimes are offenses that have been committed by either a public trustee, a high social status person, or a person of respectability. White collar crimes are also referred to as corporate crimes. These crimes are financially inspired and are usually committed by professionals in a nonviolent manner. Popular white collar crimes include Ponzi schemes, ICO scams, labor racketeering, cybercrimes, infringement of copyrights, money laundering, Impersonification, fraud, and bribery.

What are Possible Defense Strategies for Theft Crimes?

A number of defense strategies may apply during a theft offense trial. The following defense strategies could also hold even where the court has enough proof that the defendant actually committed the crime. However, it is significant to consider the specific circumstances surrounding the theft before contesting the case.

The claim of ownership: The defendant would easily establish a strong defense if they had legal belief that they were entitled to ownership of the associated property. The defendant should, however, not only state their claim of the property but also present a valid proof. Supporting evidence such as ownership titles are essential for this defense to hold.

 Intoxication: This defense holds where the defendant can prove that during the theft, they had been intoxicated. In this case, the defendant might easily argue that the intent to steal was firmly corrupted. The intoxicating substance does not matter in this case, but it could be alcohol, drugs, or other chemicals. The defendant would still have a strong defense against the trial.

Entrapment: A person may be induced to commit a crime, either under duress or emotional coercion, so as to fall prey of prosecution. When such an act happens, the crime is said to have been committed under entrapment. Where the court is able to establish that the entrapping party had the intent to steal, it is possible to earn a dismissal on part of the defendant.

The defense for a return of property: Returning stolen property during the course of the trial could perhaps attract a plea deal or reduction of sentence. However, the return of property may necessarily not serve as a defense strategy. A valid defense may be borrowed from the return of property. For instance, when the court is able to establish that the defendant had a previous intention to return the property at the time of taking, then the defendant could be relieved from the charges.

How Can I Find a Vista Theft Crimes Attorney Near Me?

The success of theft defenses generally depends on how perfect the defense is convincingly presented. If you are facing serious theft crime charges in Vista, finding an experienced defense attorney is essential. Vista Criminal Attorney Law Firm is proud to have qualified criminal defense lawyers that are able to help you in these types of criminal matters. Our lawyers are able to analyze a case to determine if we are able to stage a successful defense for any theft crime charge. Call us at 760-691-1551 to speak to one of our qualified lawyers today.