Theft is among the most common crimes in the state of California, and it involves taking another person’s money or property without their consent.  At the Orange County Criminal Lawyer, this is an offense we have handled many times in the past, to help the accused get a more lenient charge or have their charges dismissed. Most of the reported cases of theft involve good people who have made a single unfortunate mistake. Other cases involve people who have been falsely accused of theft.

Fortunately, we are always there to help the accused get through the legal process swiftly and also to protect their rights. If you are facing theft charges in Orange County today, we advise you to get legal help as soon as possible. With the help of a good criminal attorney, you will be able to fight the charges you are facing in court.

Legal Definition of Theft Crimes

Theft is generally defined as the act of taking another person's money or property without that person's authorization or consent. When this is illegally done, the action will be a crime that is punishable by law. In the state of California, several crimes fall under the umbrella of theft crimes, which are convicted as either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the seriousness of the crime and the factors surrounding the defendant's actions.

A conviction resulting from a theft crime can significantly affect your life in many ways. You may, for instance, find it challenging to find employment, and obtain state licensing among other benefits. Most theft convictions in the state are eventually expunged, but this does not mean that they will not show up when a background check is conducted on the accused. An employer will not be quick to trust you if you have a record of theft in your criminal record. That is why theft charges should be fought with the help of an excellent criminal lawyer.

Common Types of Theft Crimes in California

As mentioned above, there are several types of crimes that fall under the umbrella of theft crimes. The most common ones include:

California Petty Theft

The crime of petty theft in California is covered under Sections 484a and 488, of the state's Penal Code, and is defined as illegally taking another person's property or money that is valued at $950 or less. When you physically take another person's property, you could be charged with petty theft or theft through larceny. However, there are forms of petty theft crimes that are a little complicated, and these may include theft by embezzlement, theft by trick, and theft by fraud or by false pretense. 

To be convicted of petty theft, there are some aspects of this crime that the prosecutor needs to prove for the court to find you guilty of the crime. These elements mainly depend on the type of petty theft crime you have committed.

If it is theft through larceny, the following elements of the crime must be correct:

  • You took into possession property that was owned by another person
  • You took that property without its owner's consent
  • That you acquired the property intending to permanently deprive its owner of it, to rob the owner of the property for an extended period
  • You changed the location of that property, even for an insignificant distance, and you retained it for some time

If it is theft by fraud or false pretense as provided under Section 532 of the California Laws, the following elements must be correct:

  • That the defendant intentionally and knowingly deceived another person of their property through false pretense or by telling them something that was not true
  • That the defendant did this meaning to persuade the property holder to let them take custody of their property
  • That the property holder allowed you to take its ownership because they believed in your deceitful pretense

Fraud is a more complicated type of petty theft than theft through larceny. This is because by making false pretense, the defendant's main intention is to deceive another person. A false claim can be achieved in several ways, including the following:

  • Providing incorrect information to another person to deceive them
  • Recklessly saying something is right without giving any basis to show that it is not true
  • Failing to give information even when you are obliged to provide it
  • Making a promise with no intention of fulfilling it

If it is theft by use of trick as provided under Section 484 of California penal Code, the prosecutor will be required to prove the following elements for you to be found guilty of the offense:

  • That the defendant acquired a property that they knew belonged to another person
  • That the property holder let him/her take ownership of that property because he/she had used some form of deceit or fraud
  • That when the defendant obtained that property, they intended to either rob the owner of the said property permanently or for a period that is long enough for its owner to miss a significant value of that property
  • That the defendant kept the said property for a particular length of time
  • That the property proprietor did not transfer the property ownership to the defendant

Theft by use of trick is a little similar to theft by fraud or pretense, but the main difference is that with fraud, the property holder lets the thief possess the property and sometimes transfers the possession to the fraudster.

If it is theft by embezzlement, the following elements must be proven by the prosecutor for the defendant to be found guilty of this white-collar crime:

  • That the property holder entrusted their property to the defendant
  • That the property holder did that because they trusted the defendant
  • That the defendant fraudulently used the property or took possession of the property for their own benefit
  • That the defendant took possession or used that property knowing very well that they were depriving the owner of it, even if it was just temporarily

Fraud is used in this case to mean that the defendant took unwarranted advantage of a property holder or made them suffer loss through breach of confidence or duty. Note that taking possession of another person's property by embezzlement intending to take the property back after that will still be charged as theft.

Penalties for California Petty Theft

In California, the crime of petty theft is convicted as a misdemeanor, with its potential consequences, including the following:

  • Summary or informal probation
  • A maximum of six months behind bars
  • A fine of not more than $1000

California Grand Theft

The crime of grand theft in California is provided under Section 487 of the state’s Penal Code and is defined as illegally taking another person's money or property that is valued at $950 or more. Grand theft is considered a more severe crime when compared to petty theft, but as mentioned above, any theft crime conviction is bound to affect different aspects of your life significantly. A grand theft conviction on your criminal record, for instance, will change the way you relate with other people and your family as well as affect your professional life. Note that you can face grand theft charges if you have made one or two offenses that seemed trivial at the time of the commission.

Here are some instances that are likely to be charged as a grand theft in California:

  • Shoplifting goods worth more than $1000, even though it was just a piece of jewelry
  • Embezzling a lot of money from your employer
  • breaking into another person’s home and stealing property worth thousands of dollars

In California, grand theft is a wobbler, which means that it can be convicted as a misdemeanor or a felony. For a misdemeanor grand theft, the offender can get a maximum jail sentence of one year. A felony conviction will be punished by 16 months, two or three years of prison time.

There are several types of grand thefts in California, just the same as petty theft offenses. These are:

  • Grand theft through larceny
  • Grand theft through fraud/false pretense

A false pretense in the state of California is committed when a person intends to deceive another, and with that intention in mind, they say something that they know is untrue or fail to provide valuable information that they are obliged to give or make a promise they do not intend to fulfill.

For the defendant to be found guilty of fraud, the other person needs to have relied on the defendant's lies for them to give up possession of the ownership of their property.

  • Grand theft through the use of tricks

Difference between California Petty Theft and Grand Theft Offenses

The main difference between grand theft and petty theft in California is in the worth of the stolen property. Theft would be considered as grand if the value of the stolen property was higher than $950. This was after Prop 47 was passed into law, before which a person could still be accused of grand theft even if the property value was less than $950. Some of the charges that could be convicted as grand theft then include stealing of properties that include a firearm, an automobile, and animals like sheep, horses, and pigs. If the stolen property was taken from its owner's body, hands, or clothing, then it was also considered as grand theft.

 After the passing of Prop 47, some of these considerations also apply. Today, a person can either be indicted with grand or petty theft, depending on the type of property they have stolen. Sometimes the value of that property will not be considered. You will also face grand theft charges if you have a prior conviction of one of these crimes in your criminal record:

  • A sex offense, which requires you to register as a sex offender under the state’s registration law for sex offenders
  • A serious felony conviction such as rape, murder, child molestation, and sexual violence

California Burglary

Burglary laws in California are provided under Section 459 of the state Penal Code. According to this law, the crime is committed when a person enters a room, commercial, or residential building intending to commit a theft or felony once they are inside. The mere act of entering a building or structure with a criminal intent qualifies to be charged as burglary, even if the theft or felony intention was not committed.

For a person to be found guilty of burglary in California, the following elements of the crime must be proven by the prosecutor before a judge:

  • That the offender entered a room, building, a locked structure, or vehicle
  • That the defendant intended to commit either theft or felony by entering that room/building/vehicle or structure
  • That the value of what was stolen or what he/she meant to take was more than $950
  • That the building or structure where the defendant entered was not a commercial building open to members of the public. If it was a commercial building open to the public, the defendant entered it outside business hours.

The penalties you get for burglary in California will depend on whether you are sentenced with first-degree or second-degree burglary.

The first-degree burglary is also called a residential burglary and is always convicted as a felony in California. The penalties you are likely to get for residential burglary include:

  • Formal or felony probation
  • Two, four or six years of incarceration in a state prison
  • A fine that could go up to $10,000

In addition to these penalties, residential burglary in the state counts as a strike under the state's Three Strikes law.

Second-Degree burglary is a less severe offense when compared to its first-degree counterpart, and it involves burglary in a commercial building. The crime is a wobbler and so, can be convicted as either a felony or a misdemeanor. The prosecutor has total discretion on how they will sentence the offense depending on the circumstances surrounding your case. The possible punishments for a person found guilty of felony commercial burglary include:

  • Formal or felony probation
  • 16 months, two years or three years of incarceration in jail
  • A fine of not more than $10,000

For a misdemeanor conviction, you are likely to face the following penalties:

  • Summary or misdemeanor probation
  • A maximum of one year in jail
  • A fine of not more than $1000

California Robbery

As provided under Section 211 of the California Penal Code, robbery is defined as taking another person’s property in their immediate presence or from their person, against their will and through the use of fear or force. In California, the crime of robbery is a wobbler, which means that it can be convicted as either a felony or a misdemeanor. For a person to be convicted of robbery, the following elements must be proven by the prosecutor:

  • That the defendant took possession of another person’s property
  • That the property in question was already under the ownership of another person
  • That the defendant took the property from the other person in their immediate presence
  • That the defendant acted this way against that other person’s will
  • That the defendant used force or fear to take the property from the other person to prevent him/her from resisting
  • When the defendant used fear, they intended to deprive the person of the property permanently or to keep it for a reasonable amount of time such that the property owner will have missed a significant portion of that property’s value

By taking another person’s property, you either take possession of it and treat it as your own, or you move it away from its original owner, even though for a short distance.

Taking another person’s property from their immediate presence means that the defendant took the property directly from his/her victim.

Note that for the robbery offense to be complete, the defendant must have acted against their victim’s will, either by the use of fear or force.

The crime of robbery in California is classified under first-degree and second-degree robbery.

The first-degree robbery happens when the victim is either a passenger or driver in transportation for hires such as a taxi or bus, if it occurs in an inhabited boat, trailer or house or if the robbery happens immediately a victim uses an ATM. The crime is usually a felony, punishable by felony probation, a maximum of six years in prison and a fine of not more than $10,000. 

Second-degree robbery in California is any other type of robbery that does not meet the definition of a first-degree offense. The offense is convicted as a felony too, attracting similar penalties as first-degree robbery.

California Prop 47

Proposition 47 is a law that was passed in 2014 during elections in California to allow offenders who are facing less serious non-violence crimes to be convicted with misdemeanors and not felonies. Under this law, most offenses that seem non-serious will attract less severe penalties, unless the offender has prior convictions for serious crimes such as rape, murder, other sex offenses, and gun crimes. After its passing into law, prop 47 became retroactive. This means that anyone that was serving a felony sentence for an offense that was covered by the law was to be resentenced again to a misdemeanor.

Some theft crimes are covered under California Prop 47, which means that they are solely misdemeanors unless the offender has a prior conviction or a more severe crime. Some of these are:

  • Shoplifting and attempted shoplifting as provided under Section 484, as long as the value of the stolen goods is less than $950
  • Grand theft as provided under Section 487, as long as the value of the stolen property is less than $950
  • Receiving stolen goods as provided under Section 496, whose value is less than $950
  • Fraud/forgery as provided under Sections 470-476, as long as the value of the forged document is less than $950


Possible Defenses for California Theft Crimes

As mentioned above, a conviction of theft can alter several aspects of your life, including your personal and professional life. Other than spending some time behind bars and paying fines, you may find it hard to find a good job or to relate well with other people. That is why you need help fighting theft crime charges. A good criminal lawyer will do their best to fight the charges you are facing as well as keep the matter out of your criminal record. Several defense strategies can help your case greatly, including:

You did not intend to steal

One of the common elements in most theft crimes is the intention to take. If the aim is not there, then there is no way the court will find you guilty of the offense. Your attorney will have to be convincing for this defense to work. If you walked out of a shop with an item without paying for it, you must have been absent-minded and not intending to steal it.

You had reason to believe that the property was yours

There is no way you can face theft charges if you thought that the property you took possession of was rightfully yours. If you had a strong belief to believe that the item was yours, you could not possibly have the intention of stealing it.

The property holder gave consent

If you had the permission of the property holder to take possession of their property, you would not face theft charges. Note that the use of that property must be within the range of its owner's consent. If you were only allowed to use a person's car for a few hours, keeping it for a day or two can be taken as an offense.

False accusations

For such a crime as theft, it is possible to be accused falsely by another person out of malice, jealousy or to get back at you for something you did or did not do. Many people frame others for such crimes as theft. If you do not have a proper defense, you may end up paying for a crime you did not commit.

 Find an Orange County Criminal Lawyer Near Me

Theft crimes are categorized among the most severe offenses in the state of California. A conviction can alter your life drastically and even affect how you relate with other people, including your family. If you are facing theft charges, you need the best defense you can get to have the charges reduced or dropped. The Orange County Criminal Lawyer can help you with this. Call us at 714-262-4833 if you are in Orange County for the best legal support and guidance.