PLEASE NOTE: To protect your safety in response to the threats of COVID-19, we are offering our clients the ability to meet with us in person, via telephone or through video conferencing. Please call our office to discuss your options.

Property Crimes

California has strict laws regarding property cases. Depending on the severity and nature of the crime, you could face felony or misdemeanor charges. However, the charges that one faces vary depending on the specific kind of property crime perpetrated. Property crimes are classified as per their nature under California law. We at Leah Legal: Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer offer professional legal representation to anyone charged with a property crime in Los Angeles, CA.

Understanding California Property Crimes

Property crimes include both theft-related violations and non-theft-related violations, which are two distinct kinds of offenses.

The non-theft-related offenses often include:

  • Vandalism.
  • Trespass.
  • Arson.

Property crimes associated with theft often include:

  • Larceny.
  • Burglary.
  • Robber.
  • Theft of a motor vehicle.
  • Other types of theft.

Arson: PC 451

Arson is described under California PC 451 as an offense committed when an individual sets fire to a property, structure, or forest land. A prosecutor should demonstrate that the defendant purposefully and intentionally burned down or started a fire on a building, piece of property, or forest land for the accused to be convicted under this provision.

Setting something on fire or burning it implies using fire to destroy or damage the property partially or completely. For example, charring wood alone can be sufficient proof of a burn or fire. When interpreting this statute, issues like what constitutes a forest land or structure could emerge.

California law defines a structure as any building, tunnel, power plant, bridge, or public tent. If a fixture is a vital part of the building, it could be considered part of a structure. According to PC 451, "forest land" includes grassland, wood, forests, cleared areas, and areas covered in brush.

The Consequences of Arson

A violation of California PC 451 is treated as a felony. The punishments for this crime depend on several factors, such as the kind of property in question and whether somebody sustained burn injuries. As a result, the following penalties could be imposed:

  • If you intentionally set fire to personal property, you could face prison terms of 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years.
  • Depending on the severity of the malicious arson on forest land, you could receive a sentence of 2, 4, or six years.
  • If you did something malicious in an occupied building or property, you could face a sentence of three, five, or eight years.
  • Five, seven, or nine years behind bars for arson that resulted in serious physical harm.

Aside from the term of imprisonment, anybody found guilty under California PC 451 could face further consequences. For example, such a sentence could lead to adverse immigration consequences.

Arson is a criminal offense that, if committed by a non-citizen, can result in deportation and the marking of the foreign national as inadmissible. As a result, arson is a morally repugnant crime. Your right to possess a firearm could also be jeopardized.

In light of this, if you're found guilty of arson, you won't be able to exercise your right to keep and bear arms as usual. A person convicted of arson under this provision forfeits their right to possess firearms since arson is considered a felony.

Expungement of an Arson Conviction

A person found guilty of arson is eligible for expungement after serving their sentence in full, whether through probation or incarceration. Even after infringing the conditions of probation, it is still possible to have the crime expunged.

However, the court will decide whether to do so. An expunged conviction frees the offender from all consequences and restrictions. In this case, your firearm rights and the risk of incurring immigration repercussions are revoked.

Trespass: PC 602

Trespassing on someone else's property is illegal under California PC 602. California trespassing is defined as more than thirty different activities.

Some of the activities that are prohibited by California's trespassing statutes include:

  • Entering someone else's property with the intent to cause damage.
  • Entering a person's property with the intent to disrupt or interfere with their business operations.
  • Unauthorized entry and occupying someone's property.
  • Insisting on remaining on someone else's property despite multiple requests to leave.

Aside from the aforementioned actions, other unusual kinds of trespassing are prohibited by California law. Some of these include:

  1. Taking stones, dirt, or soil from another person's land without consent.
  2. Taking shellfish like oysters or any other kind from someone else's property.
  3. Refusing to go through security checks at an airport, or courthouse.

The description of California trespass is complex and often encompasses multiple factors. However, several factors render most actions as trespassing. These factors represent the elements the prosecution should establish to find someone guilty of trespass.

These include the following:

  • You intentionally entered someone else's property.
  • You specifically intended to infringe on another person's property rights.
  • You violated the person's property rights by causing damage to the property, disrupting their business operations, or doing anything else.

Penalties For California Trespass

Trespass is a unique crime that can be tried as a misdemeanor, infraction, or felony. Trespass convictions as felonies are rare. Let's take a look at the consequences based on how they were filed.

  • Misdemeanor Trespass Penalties

Trespassing is often treated as a misdemeanor. A California misdemeanor trespass can result in the following penalties:

  • Misdemeanor or summary probation.
  • Maximum sentence of 6 months behind bars.
  • A hefty cash fine not exceeding $1,000.

If you are asked to leave a refuge for a battered woman and refuse, you could face up to one year behind bars.

  • Infraction Trespass Penalties

California only classifies one simple and basic kind of trespass as an infraction. For instance, trespassing into someone's property without permission and with intent is classified as an infraction if there is no "trespass" signage or barrier on the land. The signage should be placed at least three miles from the person's property to satisfy the requirements for this kind of trespassing.

PC 602.8 stipulates that if someone is found guilty, they could be fined $75 for a first violation and $250 for a second violation on the same property. The prosecution will file a misdemeanor trespass charge against you if you trespass on the same property for the third time.

  • Felony or Aggravated Trespass

Felony or aggravated trespass takes place when a person makes credible threats to injure another person, causing that person to worry for their well-being or that of their family. After one month, you decide to invade the respective individual's property to execute the threat.

Aggravated felonies are treated as wobbler crimes. This means that you could be prosecuted with either a felony or a misdemeanor based on the facts of the case and your record. When charged with a misdemeanor, the maximum penalty includes serving one year behind bars and a $2000 fine.

If you're found guilty of aggravated felony trespass, you could spend 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years behind bars. Aside from that, you could be subject to felony probation.

Expungement of a Trespass Conviction

A trespass-related criminal record can be expunged if you successfully finish your probation time. However, the record expungement could be denied if you engaged in any kind of probation violation or disregarded any of the conditions of your probation.

Damaging Phone Lines: PC 591

Cutting electrical, utility, or phone lines is illegal under California PC 591. If someone destroys, removes, harms, obstructs, or cuts lines, like a cable television, electrical line, telegraph, or a piece of equipment connected to such lines, they would violate the law. The action should be illegal and committed maliciously to qualify as a crime.

If a defendant maliciously connects an electrical line illegally, he or she could also be prosecuted for obstructing or cutting electrical or telephone lines. This doesn't apply to phone, telegraph, or television lines. The definition of malicious is that you intend to commit an unlawful act or cause harm to another person. If your actions were not malicious, you wouldn't be guilty of the allegations.

Penalties for PC 591 Violation

Damage to telephone, cable, or utility lines is considered a wobbler crime. As a result, one could face felony or misdemeanor charges. This is dependent on the specifics of the charges and any prior offenses.

If found guilty of a misdemeanor, the maximum punishments include a $1,000 fine, serving not more than one year behind bars, and a misdemeanor or summary probation. If you're found guilty of a felony, you could face felony probation, a $10,000 maximum fine, and sixteen months, 2 years, or 3 years behind bars as part of the California realignment program.

Vandalism: PC 594

Vandalism is difficult to define because it depends on the three elements that make up the offense. To effectively file charges under Section 594 of the Penal Code, the prosecution must prove the following aspects of the offense.

The following are the elements of this crime:

  • The defendant purposefully damaged or destroyed property by spray-painting it using graffiti as well as other written materials.
  • The defendant was not the legitimate proprietor, either by themselves or in association with another person.
  • If the value of the destruction, damage, or defacement was below $400, the charges will be misdemeanors; if it was $400 or above, it will be considered a felony.

California Vandalism Penalties

Vandalism offenders face a lengthy and complicated sentencing process. It requires careful thought, and much of it depends on the nature of the offense. Below we'll explore the consequences that could be imposed for vandalism in the state of California.

Penalties for a Misdemeanor Vandalism Offense

As indicated above, if the value of the destroyed property is below $400, the crime is classified as a misdemeanor. The following penalties could be imposed if a person is found guilty of misdemeanor vandalism:

  • A county jail sentence of no more than one year.
  • Maximum penalties of $1,000, and $5,000 for repeat offenders.
  • Summary or informal probation.

The following factors could be considered if you are sentenced to probation due to vandalism:

  • Your California driving license will be suspended for two years. Individuals who don't have a license could face a 1- to 3-year delay in becoming eligible to get one.
  • Community work that may involve replacing, repairing, or cleaning the damaged items.
  • Counseling.
  • Bearing the responsibility of keeping the destroyed property graffiti-free for up to a year.

Penalties for Felony Vandalism

Vandalizing a piece of property valued at $400 or above is charged as a felony in California under PC 594. Felony vandalism is prosecuted as a wobbler depending on the facts surrounding the incident and your criminal history.

If the value of the property destroyed costs approximately $400 or above and you were convicted of a misdemeanor, the potential penalties that could follow include a one-year sentence served in jail as well as maximum fines of $10,000 or fifty thousand dollars if the value of the destroyed property was worth $10,000 or above. Furthermore, you run the possibility of receiving probation as a misdemeanor vandalism condition.

If you're found guilty of felony vandalism, and the value of the damaged property is $400 or more, you could be sentenced to sixteen months, 2 years, or 3 years in prison. Also, you run the risk of paying a maximum of ten or fifty thousand dollars if the destroyed property has $10,000 worth. You could also be eligible for probation with the same restrictions as those imposed for misdemeanor vandalism.

Graffiti Penalties with Damages Under $250: California PEN 640.5 & 640.6

If the type of vandalism you are accused of involves spray-painting graffiti on a property that would take $250 to fix the damages, the prosecutor can opt to charge you a lesser sentence.

The prosecutor has complete discretion over the charges, and they could opt to file a charge of simple misdemeanor vandalism under PEN 594 against you. The potential punishment, nonetheless, depends on if the charges come under PEN 640.5 or 640.6 and if it's the first or second crime.

If you are convicted for the first time, your crime is considered an infraction, which means you could be subject to community service and fines amounting to $1,000. If you have previously been convicted of violating state vandalism laws and the charges for fixing the damages are lower than $250, you will be charged with a misdemeanor.

A misdemeanor violation under PC 594 differs from those under PC 640.6 and pc 640. Thus, anyone found guilty of second-degree graffiti vandalism could face the following penalties:

  • A jail sentence of no more than 6 months.
  • Fines of up to $2,000.
  • Community service.

After the third and any subsequent convictions, the offenses are classified as misdemeanors. The penalties for this violation include a jail sentence of at least one year, maximum fines of $3,000, and community service.

Penalties For Other Forms of Vandalism

Criminal Code 594 encompasses a number of additional provisions of the Code that detail the punishments for various vandalism-related acts. These criminal codes establish punishments for various forms of vandalism depending on the kind of property damaged, not the cost of the damages. Certain vandalism acts carry additional penalties, which are outlined below.

Vandalizing Houses of Worship (PC 594.3)

According to PC 594.3, vandalizing a church, mosque, temple, or any other site of worship is considered a wobbler. A violation of this nature is regarded as a wobbler, no matter the cost of the necessary repairs to repair the damage.

If found guilty of a minor crime under this criminal code, you could face a probation term, a $1,000 maximum fine, and up to a year in jail. If you are found guilty of a felony, you could face a maximum fine of $10,000, sixteen months to 2 or 3 years in jail, and probation.

The terms of the probation somebody is committed to are similar to those stipulated for misdemeanor vandalism charges under PC 594. Additionally, if your vandalism act resulted in an individual being intimidated and was ultimately classified as a hate crime, the punishment will instantly become a felony.

Vandalism Using Caustic Substances (PC 594.4)

Despite the cost of the damages, vandalism involving any type of caustic substance or chemicals is a wobbler. If found guilty of a misdemeanor offense, the offender could spend up to 6 months in jail.

If found guilty of a felony, the offender may get a sentence of 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years. A person can be fined between $1,000 and $50,000 if found guilty of both charges. This is based on the cost of the property damage caused by vandalism. Moreover, under California PEN 594, misdemeanor vandalism could result in probation.

Vandalism On Or Near a Highway Or Freeway (PC 640.7 & 640.8)

Vandalism that takes place on or near highways or freeways is punishable under PC 640.7 & 640.8. A criminal conviction for one of these offenses carries a maximum six-month county jail sentence and is considered a misdemeanor. In addition, a second charge for vandalism close to or on a motorway carries a potential one-year prison sentence.

Highway vandalism is another offense for which you risk conviction and a fine of $1,000.  Additionally, if you commit vandalism near or on a motorway, you could be hit with a maximum fine of $5,000. Lastly, you could be required to participate in counseling or community service.

PC 459: Burglary

A burglary is defined as the act of accessing any kind of building to perpetrate grand or petty larceny or another type of offense under PC 459. Note that entry doesn't necessarily need to be made through violence, force, or damaging property, but it ought to be made to conduct a crime.

There are two categories of burglary crimes: first- and second-degree offenses. Burglaries that are conducted in homes are considered first-degree felonies, but crimes perpetrated within another type of building, such as a business or enterprise, are considered second-degree offenses.

It's worth noting that shoplifting, which is punishable under Criminal Code 459.5, is not the same as burglary. When someone enters a public establishment with the intent to take goods costing $950 or below, it is considered shoplifting.

California's Burglary Penalties

In California, the consequences for burglary vary based on whether it was a 1st or 2nd-degree burglary. When someone commits burglary in the first degree, they are found to have committed a felony. Such a crime carries a maximum sentence of two, four, or six years in state prison.

Burglary in the second degree is regarded as a wobbler. If convicted of a misdemeanor, the maximum term that can be imposed is one year in jail. If convicted of a felony, one could face penalties that could land them in jail for 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years.

Other Property Crimes in California

There are additional categories of property offenses in California in addition to those mentioned above. These extra offenses are listed below.

  • California PEN 666: Petty theft with previous allegations charged as a felony.
  • California PEN 466: Possessing burglary tools.
  • California PEN 496: Accepting stolen goods.
  • California PEN 602(m): Trespassing commercial property.
  • California PEN 485: Theft.

What Should I Do First If I'm Accused Of a Property Crime?

If you are accused of a property crime, your first action should be to speak with a criminal defense attorney. Even if you think the allegation is merely a mistake, you shouldn't talk to law enforcement without an attorney present. An attorney can guide you through police interrogation and help you prepare a defense to present in court.

Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

Every defendant has the right to a fair trial in a court of law regardless of the nature of the property offense they committed. However, without the help of a qualified criminal defense lawyer, you can't win the case being made against you. Anyone accused of property crime in Los Angeles, California, can rely on Leah Legal: Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer to provide exceptional legal services. Call us today at 424-600-7164 if you'd like to learn more about us.