Theft under Penal Code 484(a) is the unlawful taking of someone else's property with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of their property. Theft involves taking, carrying away, or stealing the property of another person without their permission.
Theft can generally be classified as either petty theft or grand theft, depending on the value of the property stolen. Petty theft involves the taking of property valued at $950 or less, while grand theft involves the taking of property valued at more than $950. Under these broad classifications, there are different types of theft such as burglary, robbery, embezzlement, carjacking, shoplifting, misappropriation of public funds, and receiving stolen property.
In addition to the value of the stolen property, other factors such as the use of force or violence, the use of a firearm, or the theft of certain types of property, such as cars or firearms, can result in more severe charges and penalties. Get in touch with us at Leah Legal: Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer for legal help if you are facing any theft crime charges in the Los Angeles area.
Classification of Theft Crimes
California Penal Code 484 provides the general definition of theft. Under subsection (a), It is illegal to take someone else's property without the person’s consent and possess the property as your own. The law further classifies theft into two: grand theft and petty theft.
Under PEN 487, grand theft occurs if the value of the stolen property exceeds $950. This notwithstanding, a person faces grand theft charges if:
- The property taken is either a firearm or an automobile.
- The property was taken directly from the victim's body or immediate presence.
- The value of property or money taken can be aggravated to exceed $950 — This means that an act of theft done repeatedly with the same purpose can count as one act of theft, and if these acts are combined properly and the value exceeds $950, you could face grand theft charges.
- The property is domestic animals or farm products whose value exceeds $250.
- An employee, agent, or servant takes personal property, money, or labor from their employer or principal, whose value aggregates $950 or more within a 12-month consecutive period.
Grand theft is usually a wobbler unless there are firearms involved or there are sentence enhancements.
As a wobbler, the misdemeanor punishment includes a maximum jail sentence of one year. As a felony, the jail sentence can be 16 months, two years, or three years. You might also be ordered to a formal probation with a maximum jail term of one year.
For a grand theft firearm, the offense will be a felony with state imprisonment for 16 months, two years, or three years.
Grand Theft Penalty Enhancements
For felony grand theft charges, the potential penalty enhancements are:
- One year for property exceeding $65,000.
- Two years for property exceeding $200,000.
- Three years for property exceeding $1,300,000.
- Four years for property exceeding $3,200,000.
Under Penal Code 488, petty theft is any form of theft that doesn’t include grand theft (listed above), and the value of the property or services is less than $950.
This offense is a misdemeanor, whose maximum fine is $1,000 and up to six months in county jail. The judge may order the defendant to summary/misdemeanor probation instead of the jail sentence.
How Value is Determined
The value of property in theft cases is generally determined by the fair market value of the property at the time it was taken. The fair market value is the price that a willing buyer would pay a willing seller in an open market.
If the property has no readily ascertainable market value, such as unique or one-of-a-kind items, the value may be based on the cost of replacing or repairing the property, or on an expert appraisal of the property's value.
In cases where multiple items are stolen, the value of each individual item is usually added together to determine the total value of the stolen property. However, if the theft involves a large number of items or if the items are of similar value, the total value may be based on an average or estimate.
Forms of Theft—Proving The Major Elements of a Theft Offense
Theft crimes take four major forms. As we will discuss further, there are specific elements of crime for various types of thefts. Here are the forms of theft:
- Theft by larceny.
- Theft by embezzlement.
- Theft by false pretense.
- Theft by trick.
Theft by Larceny
Larceny involves taking the property of another person without their permission, with the intent to permanently deprive them of it. This can include stealing items from a store or taking items from a person's home or vehicle. Such items can include jewelry, clothing, furniture, appliances, sporting gear, and electronic equipment.
To prove theft by larceny, the prosecution must establish that the defendant took the property without the owner's permission, with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property. This can be proven through circumstantial evidence, such as the defendant's actions or statements, or through direct evidence such as eyewitness testimony or surveillance footage.
Theft by Trick
Theft by trick involves using fraud or deceit to obtain someone else's property. The prosecution must prove the following five elements:
- Ownership of the property — The defendant knowingly obtained property that was owned by another person.
- Deception — The victim let the defendant possess the property after the defendant had used some kind of deceit or fraud.
- Intent — The defendant’s intent was to deprive the victim of the property permanently or for a period that would make the owner miss significant use or enjoyment of the property.
- Possession — The defendant kept the property for a certain period.
- Lack of consent — The victim did not intend to transfer the property ownership.
Theft by False Pretenses/ Fraud
This form is outlined under PEN 532. It involves using false or fraudulent statements or representations to obtain someone else's property. In other words, it is a form of theft by deception.
To commit false pretense, the perpetrator must intentionally deceive the victim by making false statements or representations of material fact, with the intention of inducing the victim to transfer ownership of their property. The perpetrator must also obtain the property as a result of the victim's reliance on these false statements or representations.
Examples of false pretense include misrepresenting the quality or condition of goods being sold, making false promises regarding future actions, or presenting false financial information to obtain a loan or investment.
Theft by Embezzlement
This type of theft crime occurs when someone entrusted with someone else's property or funds steals or misappropriates them for their own personal gain.
Embezzlement typically involves someone who has been given lawful possession or control of someone else's property, such as a bank teller with access to customer accounts, or an employee with control over company funds. The perpetrator then takes or misuses the property for their own personal benefit, in violation of the trust placed in them.
The following facts must be established:
- The defendant had lawful possession or control of the victim's property, money, or funds;
- The defendant fraudulently took or used the property for their own personal gain;
- The defendant intended to deprive the owner of the property permanently or for a period of time that the owner would miss a major part of the property; and
- The defendant had no right to the property or had exceeded their authority over the property.
Types of California Theft Crimes
Grand Theft Auto (GTA)
California Penal Code 487 (d) (1) governs the crime of grand theft auto, which is a form of theft that involves the unlawful taking of someone else's vehicle.
Under this statute, grand theft auto occurs when someone takes a motor vehicle that is valued at $950 or more without the owner's consent with the intention to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle.
While GTA is a type of grand theft and, thus, a wobbler, it is usually charged as a felony. A conviction can result in a prison sentence of 16 months, two years, or three years and/or a maximum fine of $10,000.
If the defendant used force or fear to take the vehicle or has a prior criminal history, the penalties for the offense may be increased. The prison term would be two, three, or four years if the defendant has a prior conviction. If the vehicle is worth more than $65,000, the defendant faces an additional sentence of one year and an additional two years if the vehicle’s value exceeds $200,000.
To secure a conviction for grand theft auto, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to steal the vehicle and did not have the owner's consent to take it. Thus, if the defendant did not intend to steal the vehicle, they might face joyriding/ unlawful taking of a vehicle charge.
Misdemeanor joyriding charges carry a maximum fine of $5,000 and a maximum jail sentence of one year. If convicted of felony joyriding, the maximum fine is $10,000 and/or a jail sentence of 16 months, two years, or three years.
Burglary involves unlawfully entering a building or structure with the intent to commit theft or any other felony while inside.
Under Penal Code 459, burglary can be charged as either first-degree (residential) or second-degree (commercial) burglary, depending on the type of structure that was entered. First-degree burglary involves entering a residential structure, such as a house or apartment, while second-degree burglary involves entering a commercial or non-residential structure, such as a store or office building.
To secure a conviction for burglary under Penal Code 459, the prosecution must prove several elements beyond a reasonable doubt, including:
- The defendant entered a building, structure, or vehicle.
- The defendant did not have the owner's consent to enter.
- The defendant entered the building, structure, or vehicle with the intent to commit theft or any other felony offense.
In the context of burglary laws, entering a structure refers to physically crossing the threshold or breaking into a building, vehicle, or other enclosed area without lawful authority or permission. This can include opening a door, window, or other entry point, or even using tools or force to gain entry.
The act of entering does not necessarily have to involve the entire body of the defendant. Even if only a small part of the defendant's body or an object within his/her control is inside the structure, it may still be considered entry for the purposes of burglary laws.
Residential burglary is a felony with these penalties:
- Formal probation.
- Two, four, or six years imprisonment.
- A maximum fine of $10,000.
Second-degree burglary is a wobbler. As a felony, the offense carries similar punishments as first-degree burglary, but with a lesser sentence of 16 months, two years, or three years in jail.
For misdemeanor commercial burglary, the penalties are:
- Misdemeanor probation.
- A maximum fine of $1,000.
- A maximum jail sentence of one year.
Is Shoplifting Different from Commercial (Second-degree) Burglary?
Shoplifting is a specific form of theft that involves taking merchandise from a retail store without paying for it. It is a common criminal offense in California and is prosecuted under Penal Code 459.5.
In the case of shoplifting, the defendant typically does not enter the store with the intent to commit theft. Instead, they may conceal or take merchandise without paying for it while already inside the store. This can be accomplished by placing items in pockets or bags, switching price tags, or simply walking out of the store with the merchandise.
In contrast, commercial burglary involves breaking into a store or other commercial establishment with the intent to commit theft or other felony offense. Shoplifting is usually charged as a misdemeanor.
PEN 211 defines the crime of robbery in California. To prove that a defendant committed robbery, the prosecution must establish the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- Taking of property — The accused took property belonging to another person.
- Personal property — The property taken was in the immediate possession of the alleged victim.
- From the victim's person or immediate presence — The property taken was either on the victim's body or within their immediate reach or vicinity.
- By means of force or fear — The defendant used force, violence, or the threat of harm to the alleged victim or another person to obtain the property.
- Intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property — The defendant took the property with the intention of keeping it for themselves or disposing of it in a manner that would prevent the owner from recovering it.
The use of force or fear does not necessarily have to involve physical violence. Threats, intimidation, or the use of a weapon can also constitute force or fear for the purposes of robbery laws.
Robbery of the First Degree
First-degree robbery is defined under Penal Code 212.5. It involves the commission of robbery in certain specific circumstances, such as:
- Robbery of an inhabited dwelling: This involves the use of force or fear to take property from someone in their home or other dwelling place.
- Robbery of a victim who is using or has just used an ATM machine: This involves the use of force or fear to take property from a person who has just used an ATM or who is in the process of using one.
- Robbery of a victim who is a passenger or the driver of a vehicle for hire: This involves the use of force or fear to take property from someone who is using a taxi, bus, or other type of commercial transportation service.
- Robbery of a victim who is engaged in performing his or her job duties: This involves the use of force or fear to take property from someone who is performing their job duties, such as a retail store employee or delivery driver.
This offense is a felony, punishable by:
- Felony probation.
- Imprisonment for three, four, or six years.
- 10,000 dollars fines.
Robbery of the Second Degree
This involves the use of force or fear to take property from someone else but does not meet the specific criteria for first-degree robbery.
Unlike first-degree robbery, second-degree robbery does not involve any of the specific circumstances that elevate the offense to a higher degree, such as robbery of an inhabited dwelling or robbery of a victim who is using or has just used an ATM machine. However, it is still a serious crime that can result in significant penalties.
Second-degree robbery is also a felony punishable by up to five years in state prison, depending on the specific circumstances of the case. However, if the defendant used a firearm during the commission of the crime, the penalties can be much more severe.
Misappropriation of Public Funds
Misappropriation of public funds is a serious criminal offense that involves the illegal use of money or property that belongs to a government agency or organization. In California, this offense is addressed under Penal Code 424, which makes it illegal for a public officer, employee, or agent to use public funds for their own personal benefit or the benefit of someone else.
To be convicted of misappropriation of public funds, the prosecution must prove the following elements:
- The defendant was a public officer, employee, or agent.
- The defendant used public funds for their own personal benefit or for the benefit of someone else.
- The defendant acted with the intent to defraud or deprive the public agency or organization of the funds.
Potential penalties include:
- Felony probation.
- Jail sentence of two, three, or four years.
- A maximum fine of $10,000.
- The defendant will be barred from holding any public office.
Receiving Stolen Property
Under Penal Code 496, it is a crime to buy, receive, or possess property that has been stolen or obtained through some other illegal means, with knowledge that the property is stolen or illegally obtained.
The prosecution must prove the following elements:
- The defendant bought, received, or possessed property that had been stolen or obtained through some other illegal means.
- The defendant knew that the property was stolen or illegally obtained.
- The property had some value, no matter how small.
Note that even if the defendant did not know that the property was stolen or illegally obtained, they can still be convicted of receiving stolen property if a reasonable person in their position would have known that the property was stolen or obtained illegally.
Receiving stolen property is a wobbler offense. Misdemeanor charges may result in up to one year in county jail and a fine of $1,000, while felony charges can result in up to three years in state prison and a fine of $10,000. The exact penalties will depend on factors such as the value of the stolen property and the defendant's criminal history.
General Theft Crimes Defenses
There are several general defenses that can be used to fight theft crime charges in California. These defenses include:
Lack of intent.
One of the most common defenses to theft crimes is that the defendant lacked the intent to steal. This could be because they believed the property belonged to them, or because they took the property by mistake.
Mistake of fact.
If the defendant made an honest mistake regarding ownership or believed that they had the right to take the property, they may be able to use a defense of mistake of fact.
If the property owner gave the defendant permission to take the property, then there can be no theft. If the prosecution cannot prove that the defendant did not have consent to take the property, then this can be a strong defense.
If the defendant was forced to commit the theft under threat of harm to themselves or someone else, they may be able to use a defense of duress.
If law enforcement officers encouraged or induced the defendant to commit the theft when they would not have otherwise done so, then the defendant may be able to use a defense of entrapment.
Find a Theft Crimes Defense Attorney Near Me
A theft crime conviction could have additional consequences on top of a jail/prison sentence and fines. Some of these crimes are strikes under the three strikes law, while others can make you barred from holding a public office. As a result, you should fight to try and avoid these negative consequences.
We at Leah Legal: Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer are here to help you fight any theft crime charges leveled against you. You can count on us to give maximum attention to detail so we can devise a suitable defense strategy. Get in touch with us at 424-600-7164 if you are facing any theft charges in Los Angeles.