In California—as in most states—the statutes which cover theft are relatively broad, covering a number of different types of criminal conduct involving the misuse of another’s personal property. Whatever the level of theft crime, they all have one thing in common—property belonging to another was taken without their consent.
Theft crimes can range from petty theft to grand theft and can include the crimes of shoplifting, residential burglary, grand theft auto, grand theft of a firearm, commercial burglary, robbery, receiving stolen property and carjacking. Proposition 47, passed by California voters in November, 2014, had a major effect on theft crimes. Call San Diego theft crimes attorney Vikas Bajaj today if you have been charged or under investigation for a theft crime. With 19 years of experience, Mr. Bajaj will aggressively defend you. We offer a free consultation.
Prop 47 and Theft Crimes
If the value of the property stolen does not exceed $950, theft crimes are now required to be charged as misdemeanors rather than felonies. All prior felony convictions for theft are now subject to retroactive resentencing and reclassification. The theft crimes affected include any theft of $950 or less, including automobile and firearm theft, any offense of receiving stolen property valued at less than $950, shoplifting (previously charged as commercial burglary), forgery and check fraud involving amounts less which do not exceed $950.
Proposition 47 also narrowed the types of priors which make defendant’s eligible for prosecution. Proposition 47 bars those with certain prior serious or violent felonies or those required to register as a sex offender from seeking retroactive relief.
Although Proposition 47 has lessened the penalties for some categories of theft, the crime is still considered one of moral turpitude meaning there can be especially severe consequences in the realm of employment, professional licensing, and immigration procedures. Because of this, it is especially important to speak to a San Diego theft attorney immediately after being charged with theft in order to increase your chances of a positive outcome and a clean record.
In some instances, a theft offense may be eligible for a diversion program, allowing you to avoid a criminal conviction. In the case of a misdemeanor theft charge your criminal attorney may be able to negotiate a “civil compromise.” This allows you to make restitution to the victim. In return, the victim will agree to have your criminal case dismissed.
Shoplifting Charges – PC 459
There is now a new Penal Code section which covers San Diego shoplifting charges. Penal Code §459.5 makes it a misdemeanor crime to steal merchandise in a store with a value up to $950 during business hours. Entering a commercial business after hours with the intent to commit theft will be charged as commercial burglary. While Proposition 47 did prevent shoplifting from being charged as a felony (except in cases where the accused has serious priors) a shoplifting conviction can nonetheless have serious repercussions.
A conviction for a first offense shoplifting charge in San Diego can result in as many as six months in county jail, and/or a fine which will not exceed $1,000. There may be as much as three years’ probation as well. Teens are often charged with shoplifting, and will face the same punishments and penalties. A report on the criminal record of a teenager could result in the inability to attend a college of their choice as one of the long-term repercussions.
Petty Theft Charges – PC484, 488
Under Penal Code §484 and §488, petty theft is taking money, labor, or real or personal property with a value of less than $950. Larceny, embezzlement, false pretenses and theft by trick are included under the petty theft code. Larceny is the most common type of petty theft, involving taking personal property of another with the specific intent of depriving the owner of that property.
Petty theft is generally charged as a misdemeanor and can result in up to six months in a county jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. If the value of the stolen property is less than $50, and you have no prior theft convictions, your San Diego theft crime attorney may be able to negotiate on your behalf to have the petty theft charges dropped to an infraction. The punishment for such an infraction is a fine of no more than $250.
Grand Theft Charges – PC 487
Any theft of money, labor or real or personal property, which is valued above $950 in the state of California, is considered grand theft as per Penal Code §487. Grand theft is considered a “wobbler” offense. This means the crime may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances surrounding the crime.
If the theft is charged as a misdemeanor crime, you could spend up to a year in county jail and pay fines as large as $1,000 if convicted. A felony grand theft conviction could bring from sixteen months to three years in county jail and a fine as large as $10,000. In certain circumstances, California law may require a state prison sentence for a felony grand theft conviction. Keep in mind, however, that just because you have been charged with a felony grand theft, this does not necessarily mean a conviction. Your attorney may be able to negotiate lesser charges in your case, meaning less serious penalties.
Burglary Charges – PC 459
Under Penal Code §459, entering a building with the intent to commit a felony or theft constitutes burglary. First degree residential burglary—entering the home, structure, room, tent, hotel room or vehicle of another with the intent to commit a theft or felony inside—is a strike offense under the state’s “Three Strikes” law. Second degree commercial burglary is a wobbler offense which can encompass theft from vendors of property valued at more than $950 or during non-business hours.
As an example, breaking into a store at night would be charged as second degree burglary since no one resides in the building at night, but it could be charged as a felony. A first degree residential burglary conviction can result in from two to six years in a state prison. A second degree commercial burglary conviction can result in from sixteen months to three years in county jail.
Receiving Stolen Property Charges – PC 496
Receiving stolen property is, contrary to what many people think, a serious theft crime, which can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor under Penal Code §496. If the value of the stolen property received is less than $950, the crime will likely be charged as a misdemeanor.
Punishment for a conviction of such a misdemeanor theft crime is up to a year in county jail. Prosecutors are often more able to prove the charge of receiving stolen property than theft itself (unless you are caught in the act of a theft).
Under PC §496, it is a crime to buy, sell, conceal or withhold any property you know was stolen. Perhaps the only defense for this crime is whether you could have reasonably known the property was stolen. If the stolen property is valued at more than $950, it is a wobbler. If charged as a felony, a conviction could result in from 16 months to three years imprisonment.
Robbery Charges – PC 211
Robbery also falls under California’s “Three-Strikes” law, and is always charged as a felony due to the risk of violence to innocent people. Taking personal property from the possession of another against his or her will, by means of force or fear with the intent of depriving the rightful owner is robbery (California Penal Code § 211). When weapons are involved, or if another person is injured during a robbery, enhancements will likely add to the length of prison time in the event of a conviction.
Unfortunately, the element of force involved in a robbery may be satisfied with relatively minor conduct. As an example, a shoplifter resisting store security in an effort to escape could conceivably face robbery charges. First degree robbery charges encompass inhabited structures, drivers or passengers in a vehicle (including buses, taxis and subways) or robbery of an individual who recently used an ATM and is still in the vicinity. If convicted of first degree robbery, you could face between three and nine years in a California state prison. Second degree robbery is any robbery which does not meet the requirements for a first degree robbery, and a conviction will carry a prison sentence of from two to five years.
Grand Theft Auto Charges – PC 487(d)(1)
You could be charged under Penal Code §487(d)(1), for taking a vehicle with a value of more than $950. Grand theft auto is a wobbler, however it is most often charged as a felony with the same penalties in the event of a conviction as those for grand theft.
Grand Theft of a Firearm Charges – PC 487(d)(2)
You could be charged under Penal Code 487(d)(2) for the theft of a firearm, which will almost always be charged as a felony. If convicted, you could face from 16 months to three years in a California state prison.
Defenses to Theft Charges
Depending on the circumstances surrounding your San Diego theft charges, your attorney may be able to offer one or more of the following common defenses:
- Lack of specific intent to commit theft;
- Asportation (goods must be carried away from the owner);
- Claim of right (you believed you had a right to the property);
- Actual ownership of the property in question;
- Return of property and
Don’t Take Your Theft Charges Lightly
Even a theft conviction on the relatively minor end of the spectrum can have a shattering effect on your life. Never make the mistake of believing a misdemeanor theft charge is not a serious matter.
A conviction for theft could leave a permanent blot on your record, even if you happen to be sentenced to probation rather than jail or prison time. In today’s technological world, nearly all employers conduct background checks, and a conviction for theft—whether misdemeanor or felony—can make your future much more difficult. Whether you have been wrongfully accused or made a bad choice, having an experienced, dedicated San Diego theft crimes attorney by your side can make all the difference.