California theft crimes refer to unlawfully taking someone else’s property without permission. These offenses can be filed as misdemeanors or felonies based on property worth and the case’s unique circumstances. A conviction for a theft offense has severe repercussions, including incarceration, hefty fines, and a criminal record that harms future employment opportunities and state licensing.

At Monterey Criminal Attorney, we understand the gravity of these charges and their effects on your future life. Therefore, we have highlighted what constitutes theft, types of theft, their elements, penalties, and possible defenses to help you contest the charges for a favorable outcome.

Theft Crimes Legal Definition

Theft is taking someone else’s property without consent to deny them benefits or enjoyment. The crime is broad, as people accomplish theft in different ways, with each act forming a unique crime.

Some theft offenses are classified based on the worth of the property stolen, the property’s nature, and how property belonging to another party came into your possession.

Under theft crimes, property refers to any item of value, movable or immovable. Properties that can attract a theft charge include:

  • Immovable real property, like a piece of land.
  • Transferable, tangible property like a computer or car.
  • Legal paperwork and certificates.
  • Personal services.

Typically, California has six primary theft crimes codified under:

  • PC 211.
  • PEN 484.
  • PC 487.
  • PC 503.
  • PC 496.
  • PEN 459.

These theft crimes are further discussed below.

California Petty Theft

The definition of petty theft is outlined under Penal Code (PC) sections 484(a) and 488. Per PC 488, petty theft is the wrongful taking or stealing of another party’s property worth no more than $950.

PEN 484(a) defines petty theft, generally known as theft, as the wrongful stealing of another party’s property and keeping it as yours.

For the prosecutor to secure a conviction, they must prove the following:

  • You took possession of another party’s property.
  • You did not have permission from the owner to take the property.
  • Your intention when taking the valuable item was to deprive its owner of its use permanently.
  • You moved the property, even the slightest distance, and retained it for some time, however brief.
  • The property in question was worth at most $950.

The possessor of the property does not have to be the owner, although they qualify as victims. The terms ownership and possession, therefore, have the same meaning.

Petty theft takes various forms, including:

Petty Theft Larceny

Several petty theft offenses involve a form of theft known as larceny under PC 484. The crime involves physically taking and carrying tangible property belonging to another party. The property includes jewelry, furniture, electronic equipment, clothing, sporting gear, appliances, and bicycles. The aspects of petty theft larceny the prosecutor must prove are the same as those mentioned for petty theft.

Petty Theft by Trick

Under PC 484, petty theft comes with several conditions. The prosecutor must prove the existence of the requirements in the case for you to be guilty. These aspects the DA must prove are:

  • You acquired property you knew belonged to another party.
  • You defrauded or deceived the property owner into relinquishing possession of the property to you.
  • When you acquired the property, you planned on depriving the owner of the enjoyment of its possession for some time or permanently.
  • You retained the property for any time, enough to deprive the owner of its enjoyment.
  • The property possessor or owner did not plan on transferring it to you.

Theft through Fraud or False Pretenses

Per PEN 532, you commit theft through false pretenses or fraud when you knowingly and willingly deceive a property owner by telling them something that is not true or using false pretenses to sway them into relinquishing possession to you, and the owner relies on the false pretenses to allow you control of the property.

The law deems you to have made a false pretense when you plan on deceiving someone and engage in the following conduct:

  • Give details that you know are false.
  • Recklessly say a statement is true without believing it.
  • Withhold information that you have a mandate to disclose.
  • Promise something you do not plan on fulfilling.

The prosecutor can only convict you of theft by false pretenses if the possessor or owner of the property relied on your false pretenses to surrender ownership or possession. However, it is not a must for deceit to be the only reason for giving you the property.

Petty theft is a misdemeanor that attracts at most six months of jail incarceration and a court financial fine not exceeding $1,000. Sometimes, the judge can impose summary probation instead of imprisonment. Probation includes serving time in community labor, returning stolen items, and attending an anti-theft program.

Grand Theft

PC 487 refers to grand theft as stealing or taking private property, real property, cash, or labor worth over $950 without consent. The offense also entails stealing property directly from the owner’s immediate person, stealing their car or gun, regardless of its value. The violation has grounds for sentencing other theft crimes entailing larceny, false pretenses, or tricks.

  1. Grand Theft Larceny

The crime of grand theft larceny involves the following:

  • Possessing a tangible item belonging to another party.
  • You lack consent from the owner to take the item.
  • When you took the item, you planned to deny the owner of its use permanently or to keep it for any duration sufficient to deprive its owner of value, and you moved the item and held it for a considerable period.

An offense like shoplifting can attract these charges if the shoplifted items are worth more than $950.

  1. Grand Theft By Trick

The second form of grand theft is grand theft by trick. The aspects of the case the prosecutor should demonstrate are:

  • You, the defendant, acquired property belonging to another individual or were aware it belonged to another party.
  • You deceived the owner into allowing you to take possession of it.
  • When you took control of the property, you planned to permanently deprive the owner of its value.
  • The owner did not plan on transferring the property.
  • You had the property for some time, long enough to deny the owner its benefits.

Grand theft using tricks is almost identical to grand theft using false pretenses. The difference is that the owner transfers ownership and possession under false pretenses, but with theft by trick, the possessor does not wish to transfer ownership.

  1. Grand Theft Using False Pretenses

PEN 532 defines grand theft using false pretenses. According to the statute, it is illegal to engage in the following conduct:

  • Deliberately and willfully deceive another party by making false pretenses or saying something is true when you know it is not.
  • The false pretenses aim to convince the individual to give you possession of their valuable item.
  • The property owner depended on the false statement to transfer property ownership or possession.

A violation of PEN 532 happens when you have the motive to deceive another individual and engage in the following actions:

  • Make a false statement.
  • Recklessly assert that a statement is true when you do not believe so.
  • Conceal information you are required to disclose.
  • Make a promise you have no intention of keeping.

Reliance must be present for you to be guilty of grand theft using false pretenses. It means that the owner of the item in question must have relied on your false statement or pretenses to hand over ownership. Even if there are other reasons for giving you ownership of the property, false pretenses must be one of the critical reasons.

The proof the prosecutor requires to prove grand theft by false pretenses includes:

  • A false token or note.
  • Witness testimony from two or more witnesses.
  • Testimony from one witness and additional evidence.
  • Writing with the false statement, handwritten or signed by you.

The court requires the evidence because entering into a business contract with an individual over property transfer is easy, only for them to change their mind and accuse you of using false pretenses to acquire their property.

  1. Grand Theft Through Embezzlement

The white-collar crime of embezzlement can also attract grand theft charges. When proving this type of theft, the prosecutor shows that:

  • A property owner entrusted you with it.
  • They gave you control of the property out of trust.
  • You fraudulently used the property for selfish gains.
  • You did so to deny the rightful owner its benefits, partially or permanently.

Even if you plan on returning the item, you will still be guilty of grand theft through embezzlement.

The prosecutor files grand theft as a wobbler based on the nature of the count. A misdemeanor conviction attracts at most twelve months in jail and $1,000 in court fines, while a felony conviction attracts 16, 24, or 36 months of prison incarceration and $10,000 in financial court fines.

Besides, you will face penalty enhancements as follows:

  • Additional twelve-month sentence if the property is worth more than $65,000.
  • Other 24 months if the property is worth over $200,000.
  • Additional 36-month sentence when the property is worth at least $1,300,000.
  • Additional 48-month sentence when the item in question exceeds $3,200,000.

If you are guilty of all four types of grand theft, the jury will sum up the items' value and try you for one grand theft offense.

California Burglary

Burglary is another common type of theft crime. PEN 459 defines the offense as gaining access to a structure, locked car, or residential or business premise with the motive of engaging in a felony, grand theft, or petty theft. You will face charges even if no forced entry into the structure exists.

You must note that you can only be guilty of a PEN 459 violation if you plan on committing a theft or felony crime while inside. If you did not have the motive or only gained the intent after entering the structure, the court will find you innocent of burglary.

The law classifies burglary into two major categories:

First-Degree Burglary

You face first-degree charges for a PEN 459 violation when you enter a residential structure, even if unoccupied, with the motive of engaging in theft or a felony. A residence can be any inhabited house or room within the home, boat, trailer coach, motel, hotel, or part of a building. Inhabited means an individual utilizes the structure as an abode. Inhabited also means someone occupies or lives in the structure, whether they were present or had temporarily left when you committed the offense.

A conviction for residential burglary attracts formal probation, no more than 72 months in prison, and a monetary fine of, at most, $10,000. Additionally, the court will add a strike to your record.

Second-Degree or Commercial Burgling

When you enter a commercial structure to commit a felony or theft crime, you are deemed to have committed a second-degree burglary, otherwise called commercial burgling. The offense is a wobbler with a misdemeanor, attracting:

  • Summary probation.
  • At most twelve months of jail incarceration.
  • Court fines of no more than $1,000.

A guilty verdict for a felony attracts formal probation, sixteen, twenty-four, or thirty-six months in prison, and $10,000 in financial court fines.

California Robbery

Per PEN 211, robbery is using threat or force to take an item of worth from an individual’s immediate possession. The facts the prosecutor should demonstrate to find you guilty of this offense are:

  • You took an item of value belonging to another party.
  • The property you took was in the immediate possession of the party.
  • You obtained the property against the individual’s will.
  • You managed to acquire the property or deter them from resisting your attempts to take the item using force or fear.
  • During the use of force, you planned on depriving the owner of its value or benefits.

Robbery falls into two primary categories:

  1. First-Degree Robbery

The law deems you to have committed a first-degree robbery offense when:

  • Your victim is a motorist, taxi, bus, cable car, trackless trolley, or streetcar occupant.
  • You engaged in the robbery in an occupied or inhibited structure.
  • You commit a robbery right after the victim withdraws or while withdrawing cash from an ATM.

This form of robbery is a felony. When the prosecutor secures a guilty verdict, you will face:

  • Formal or felony probation.
  • 36, 48, or 72 months of prison incarceration.
  • Financial court fines of no more than $10,000.

You should know that your prison incarceration will increase to 36, 72, or 108 if someone was in the structure during the robbery or you accomplished the theft crime with the help of at least two individuals.

  1. Second-Degree Robbery

When you commit a felony that does not satisfy the definition of first-degree robbery, you face second-degree robbery charges. If the jury finds you guilty, the judge will impose the following penalties:

  • Formal probation.
  • Twenty-four, thirty-six, or sixty months of prison incarceration.
  • No more than $10,000 in financial court fines.

You will face a penalty enhancement of 36 to 72 months if, during the robbery, a person sustains great bodily injury (GBI). Besides, robbery is a strike offense, meaning a second conviction will attract twice the typical penalties. If you accumulate three strikes, you risk 25 years to life in prison.

These penalties are life-altering. Luckily, you can reduce your conviction chances by hiring an attorney. At Monterey Criminal Attorney, we will offer legal guidance to prevent a conviction or a charge reduction.

California Embezzlement

Per PEN 503, embezzlement is the fraudulent or wrongful appropriation of a property entrusted to you to deny the rightful owner its enjoyment or value.

During prosecution, the prosecutor should show you had a relationship of trust with the property owner, which led them to entrust you with their property. Additionally, the prosecutor should show you wrongfully appropriated the property assigned to you for selfish interests and deny the rightful owner its benefits.

Embezzlement is punished based on the value of the appropriated property. You can face grand theft or petty theft by embezzlement. A misdemeanor offense attracts no more than a twelve-month jail sentence, while a felony is punishable by at most thirty-six months of incarceration.

If you are an alien, a conviction will negatively affect your immigration status. It can result in inadmissibility or deportation.

Receiving Stolen Property

PEN 496 criminalizes acquiring, withholding, purchasing, or selling a valuable item you believe to have been obtained through theft. When you face the charges, the prosecutor must show that:

  • You obtained, purchased, sold, or helped someone withhold stolen property. A stolen item means it has been acquired through theft crimes like burglary and robbery. Besides, you can face charges for a PEN 496 violation when you possess an item obtained through extortion.
  • When you acquired the property, you knew it was stolen or obtained through extortion. If you lacked knowledge that you were handling stolen property, you are not guilty under this statute.

The prosecutor files the PC 496 violation as a misdemeanor or felony based on the nature of the case. A guilty verdict for a misdemeanor will attract twelve months of jail incarceration, misdemeanor probation, and financial court fines of at most $1,000.

You will face felony charges if the value of the stolen property you possess during apprehension is $950 or more. When the court convicts you, you risk 36 months of prison incarceration, formal probation, and a monetary court-imposed fine not exceeding $10,000.

California Shoplifting

Per PC 495.5, it is unlawful to enter a business during operating hours with the motive of stealing and making away with or intending to take an item worth, at most, $950 wrongfully. The case aspects the prosecutor must establish are:

  • You accessed an open business establishment during operation hours.
  • You planned on leaving the establishment with goods worth no more than $950 without paying.

Shoplifting is a misdemeanor offense, although it could be filed as a felony if you have prior theft convictions.

Theft Crimes Aggravating Circumstances

After a conviction for a theft crime, you can face a penalty enhancement if aggravating factors exist. The circumstances of aggravation are:

  • You accomplished the offense with a lethal weapon.
  • You used fear or intimidation to take the property.
  • You engaged in a theft crime in furtherance of criminal gang activity or for the benefit of a street gang.
  • You stole government property.

Proposition 47

California voters passed Prop 47 in 2014. The Proposition converted most felony offenses into misdemeanors. Therefore, if you were convicted before the Proposition for the following felony offenses, you qualify for a charge reduction to a misdemeanor:

  • Felony burglary.
  • Forgery.
  • Grand theft auto.
  • Obtaining stolen property.
  • Grand theft utilizing a firearm.
  • Check fraud.

Talk to an experienced attorney to evaluate your case and determine if you are eligible.

Fighting Theft Crimes

At Monterey Criminal Attorney, we can assist in strategizing the best possible defenses to contest charges for a theft offense. Even when the prosecutor has overwhelming evidence against you, we can aggressively fight the charges for a count reduction or dismissal. This is primarily possible if you are a first-time offender who made a mistake and has no criminal history. When you agree to pay back the stolen property and participate in community labor or theft counseling, the prosecutor can arrange to drop the charges and prevent a criminal record that will haunt you for the rest of your life.

One of the defenses we will use to contest the charges is lack of intent. You cannot be guilty of theft if you do not have a specific plan to steal. Your defense attorney will argue that there was a misunderstanding or that you accidentally took someone’s property without consent.

Similarly, you can argue that you are the property's rightful owner and that you rented it out and came to take it back.

Also, you can claim that you had consent from the owner to take the property. However, you must present the court with proof of permission for the defense to hold.

Other defenses include:

  • False allegations.
  • You had authorization from the owner to use the property.
  • Mistaken identity.

Find a Profound Theft Crimes Attorney Near Me

Factors like the value of a stolen item, your criminal record, or your manner of committing a theft determine the crime the prosecutor will charge you with. A guilty verdict for a theft offense has life-altering repercussions. Luckily, with the help of a competent defense attorney, you can have a charge reduced or dismissed depending on your case’s facts. At Monterey Criminal Attorney, we can prove your innocence and prevent a conviction. Contact us today at 831-574-1791 for a zero-obligation consultation.