Understanding Petty Theft

What happens if you’re working on a political campaign and you steal your opponent’s signs? Two young women who were worked on a Poway city council campaign in 2016 have learned that this behavior can result in criminal charges. Erin Leonard and Whitney Rosen, two Poway city council campaign workers, were both charged with misdemeanor counts of petty theft for stealing six campaign signs from three different city council candidates.

Understanding Theft

Theft occurs when you intentionally take property that belongs to another person without their willing consent. While most of us tend to think of theft as an act that involves physically taking belongings without another person’s knowledge, the crime of theft can actually be committed in a variety of ways. Acts of theft can include larceny, embezzlement, fraud, trick, and false pretense.

In order to be convicted of a crime of theft the state must be able to establish and prove each element of your specific offense. These elements will vary, depending on the type of theft of which you have been accused. Generally speaking, the state will have to prove the following elements of the crime of theft:

  • You willfully took the possession of property owned by another person,
  • You gained possession without the owner’s consent,
  • When you took the property, you intended to deprive the owner of the use and enjoyment of the property, either temporarily or permanently, and
  • You moved the property and kept it for a period of time.

In simpler terms, you must have (1) taken property with the intent to deprive its own of its benefit and (2) moved that property some distance.

Petty Theft or Grand Theft?

Crimes of theft are generally divided into two distinct categories: petty theft and grand theft. The value of the property that is stolen helps to determine whether you will face charges for petty theft or grand theft.

Petty theft, defined in Penal Code Sections 484(a) and 488 PC, occurs when you steal property that is valued at $950 or less. Grand theft occurs when you steal property that is valued at greater than $950.

Penalties for Petty Theft in San Diego

Criminal Penalties

Petty theft is a misdemeanor in California. The maximum applicable penalty includes six months in a San Diego County jail and $1,000 in criminal fines. If the property that you have been convicted of stealing was not returned to its rightful owner, or if the property was destroyed in any way, you may also be required to pay restitution to your victim. This restitution will help to make them financially whole after the loss of their property.

A judge also has the discretion to order counseling, probation, and/or community service.

Collateral Consequences

While petty theft may be a misdemeanor and carry relatively light criminal penalties, it is still a crime. As such, petty theft will generate a mark on your criminal record. Once you have a criminal record you will be exposed to social and civil sanctions that will make your life incredibly difficult. Landlords, employers, and banks will likely run a background check whenever you submit an application. Seeing your criminal record, which reflects a conviction for petty theft, may cause them to decline your application. Employers and lenders may not feel that you are trustworthy, and landlords may think that you are a risk to the neighborhood.

The collateral consequences of a criminal record can also affect many other aspects of your life. When you have a criminal record in San Diego, you may find that:

  • You can’t get a job in certain fields, including healthcare and education;
  • You’re not able to participate in California welfare programs;
  • Your right to own a firearm is at risk; and
  • Family court judges make adverse decisions in child custody and/or visitation hearings.

Defending Petty Theft Charges

When you are accused of petty theft it is important to defend yourself. The arguments you make can help to clear up the situation and minimize the consequences of your arrest. Defenses to charges of petty theft in San Diego include:

  • You mistakenly believed you owned the property
  • You did not intend to deprive the owner of the property
  • You took the property by mistake
  • You have been falsely accused, or
  • Evidence was obtained in violation of your rights.

Have you been arrested for petty theft in San Diego? If so, it is important to speak with an experienced San Diego petty theft defense attorney as soon as you can. The criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office of Vikas Bajaj, APC have the experience and knowledge that are necessary to secure the best possible outcome in your criminal matter. Call today to set up a free consultation. We will review the charges in your case, explain your rights as a defendant, and outline the best course of action in your case.

Law Office of Vikas Bajaj, APC
1230 Columbia Street Suite 565
San Diego, CA 92101