Many people who fall victim to identity theft suffer losses at the expense of the perpetrator's financial gain. That's why California laws impose hefty penalties on defendants charged with identity theft. If you are facing identity theft charges, you should seek a criminal lawyer's help if you want the necessary legal assistance needed to dismiss your case or reduce to a less severe case. Contact us at the Orange County Criminal Lawyer for a detailed review of your case and the best legal assistance.

Identity Theft Definition Per California Law

Identity theft is considered a crime under the California Penal Code section 530.5. Under this statute, identity theft is addressed in four different classes. These classes are as follows:

  • Penal Code 530.5(a): under this statute, identity theft is considered as the willfully obtaining of the personal identification information of another person and using the information for unlawful purpose without the consent of that person
  • Penal Code 530.5(b): Under this statute, identity theft is defined as taking the personal identification information of another person without his or her consent to commit a fraud
  • Penal Code 530.5 (c): Under this statute, identity theft is defined as the fraudulent purchase, conveyance, and transfer of the personal identification information of another person to commit a fraud
  • Penal Code 530.5 (d): Under this statute, identity theft is defined as the sale, transfer or provision of another person's personal identification information knowing that the information will be used in committing a fraud

Based on the description provided above, several questions arise in the meaning of identity theft in California. These questions or aspects are as follows:

  • The personal identifying information
  • Willful obtaining and using for an unlawful purpose
  • Fraud

Here is a detailed view of these elements.

Personal Identification Information

Under this statute, personal identifying information can represent information such as:

  • The name, date of birth, telephone number, and address of a person
  • Social security numbers and tax identification numbers
  • Passport information and driver's license number registered by the Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Employee and school identification numbers
  • The name of another person's mother maiden name
  • Credit card number or bank account information

Willfully Obtaining for Unlawful Purposes

Under Penal Code 530.5, a person commits identity theft if he or she willfully obtains another person's personal identification information to commit illegal activities.

Someone commits an action willfully if he did it on purpose or willingly. Therefore, there was no form of coercion or intimidation to make the person continue into doing the activity.

When it comes to unlawful purposes, this includes attempting or obtaining goods, credit, services, medical information, or real property at the expense of another person.

The prosecutor does not have to demonstrate your intended fraudulent actions to charge you under Penal Code 530.5.

Committing a Fraud

Fraud refers to the deliberate act designed to secure an unlawful or unfair gain and cause another person to suffer.

Please note, it does not necessarily mean that another person was defrauded or suffered a loss to charge a suspect under this statute. 

Penalties for Identity Theft in California

In California, identity theft is charged as a wobbler. Therefore, it can be prosecuted as a felony or misdemeanor based on the suspect's criminal history and the gravity of the crime.

If you are facing misdemeanor charges, the potential consequences include:

  • Summary or misdemeanor probation
  • A maximum of one year in county jail
  • A maximum fine of $1,000

If you face felony charges, the potential punishment includes:

  • Felony or formal probation
  • A maximum sentence of three years in the state prison
  • A maximum fine of $10,00

Immigration Consequences

Other than the misdemeanor and felony penalties described above, identity theft might also have negative immigration consequences on the offender. These consequences include deportation or being marked as inadmissible into the United States.

Identity theft that involves fraud falls under the crimes of moral turpitude. Therefore, there will be immigration consequences on the offender if found guilty by the jury or the judge. 

Effects of Identity Theft on the Offender's Gun Right

A successful conviction under Penal Code 530.5 might cause the offender to lose his or her gun rights. Under California laws, felons cannot possess or own a gun. Therefore, since there is a possibility of being charged with a felony for identity theft in California, there are chances of losing your weapon right once you become a felon.

Understanding Misdemeanor and Felony Probation in Identity Theft Conviction

You should learn about misdemeanor or felony probation since they are potential penalties that can be considered once you are found guilty of identity theft. 

The purpose of these programs is to restore the victim, rehabilitate the defendant, and protect the public. In most cases, the prosecutor and the defendant's criminal attorney agree on probation in a plea bargain or through the judge's sentence. When a person succeeds in securing probation, there are specific terms and conditions that he or she should adhere to. These terms and conditions vary based on whether you are charged with a felony or misdemeanor probation.

In misdemeanor probation, the common conditions that might be imposed on the offender include:

  • Seeking gainful employment
  • Payment of fines and court cost
  • Complete Caltrans roadside work or community services
  • Show up to all the court dates
  • Avoid violating laws or arrests by law enforcement

In felony probation, you should adhere to the following conditions:

  • Meeting with the parole officer
  • Payment of restitution
  • Community supervision
  • Payment of court costs
  • Agreeing not to violate any laws
  • Participation in community service

If you violate the conditions imposed on you, you might face different consequences depending on whether you were under summary or formal probation. Some of the common consequences include:

  • Modification of your terms and conditions
  • Revocation of the probation and reinstatement of other penalties, especially the jail or prison term
  • Receiving a warning and reinstating of the same terms

Legal Defenses for Identity Theft in California

Once you are charged with identity theft in California, you should hire a professional attorney to help you beat the charges. Your attorney should employ legal defense strategies to help you dismiss the charges or reduce them to a less severe crime. Here are a few legal defenses that are suitable for your case. 

Mistaken Identity

Mistaken identity is a common defense that can be effective in your identity theft charges. This can happen if there is someone else with similar looks involved in the crime, leading to your accusations. The legal term used to describe such a person is an alibi.

If you were accused of identity theft based on mistaken identity, you should provide relevant evidence demonstrating that you were not the actual perpetrator. Some of the evidence that you can rely on include your credit card information, phone call and text messages, receipts, and other proofs that can help you disapprove of these allegations. 

Lack of Unlawful Purpose

You could not be accused of identity theft if you had no unlawful purpose after acquiring another person's personal identity information. For instance, if you took certain information to compile a report and the information owner accuses you of identity theft, the prosecutor can dismiss your case if you prove that you had no illegal purpose with the information. 

Coercion or Intimidation to Commit a Crime

Sometimes you might be coerced to commit an identity theft crime. When you are compelled to commit an identity theft crime, your actions will not be willful and probably were placed under some pressure to undertake them. For instance, if your loved one is seriously threatened unless you commit an identity theft crime, this might force you into participating in the crime.

When relying on coercion as your legal defense, you must demonstrate that you or your loved one were under significant danger hence your participation in the identity theft crime. 

Lack of Intention to Defraud

Based on the circumstances surrounding your case, the prosecutor might be forced to prove that you had the intent to defraud someone else to prove that you are guilty of identity theft crime. This can happen even though a prosecutor can proceed into charging you for identity theft regardless of whether there is proof of fraudulent activities or not. 

If your conviction depends on the fact that you defrauded someone, the court might dismiss your case or charge you with another crime if there are no fraudulent activities related to your offense.

Police Misconduct

Several types of police misconduct might have your case dismissed. For instance, if the police officer was involved in an unwarranted arrest, the court might deny all the evidence collected after your illegal seizure. This led to the dismissal of your case. Your case can be dismissed if you were denied your right of attorney or forced into a confession.

Lack of Enough Evidence

The prosecutor has the burden to prove beyond doubt that you were involved in identity theft for the jury to convict you under Penal Code 530.5. If your attorney can prove that there is no enough evidence to convict you, the court will have to dismiss your case.

Crimes Related to Identity Theft in California

There are several crimes related to identity theft in California. These crimes share the same elements or are charged instead of or along with identity theft. These crimes are as follows:

California Penal Code 529: False Impersonation

Under Penal Code 529, it is a crime to falsely personate someone else and perform in an action that might cause the victim to be liable in a prosecution or obligate him to pay up some money.

False impersonation is a California wobbler offense, meaning that you can face felony or misdemeanor charges. In a misdemeanor, the potential penalty includes misdemeanor or summary probation, a maximum fine of $10,00, and a maximum of one year in county jail.

A successful conviction of false impersonation might also affect the offender's ability to own or possess a gun if he or she is convicted of a felony. 

California Penal Code 484(e): Credit Card Fraud

Under Penal Code 484(e), (f), (g), (h), (i), and (j), it is a crime to commit a debit, access, or credit card fraud. You can be accused of committing a credit, debit, or access card if you:

  • Use a stolen debit card to buy goods
  • Use a personal credit card whereas there are no funds in its account
  • Using another person's debit or credit card without his or her consent

The kind of penalties involved in credit card fraud relies on the statute used to convict the offender. These penalties are as follows:

  • Violating Penal Code 484(e) is a wobbler with a maximum penalty of three years in county jail
  • Violating Penal Code 484(f) is a wobbler with a maximum misdemeanor punishment of one year and a felony punishment of three years in county jail
  • Violating Penal Code 484(g) can be charged as petty or grand theft. The most severe penalty for grand theft is three years in county jail. Petty theft is usually a misdemeanor with a potential punishment of a maximum of one year in county jail
  • Violating Penal Code 484(h) and can be charged as petty or grand theft. Therefore, the kind of potential penalties that apply are similar to those under Penal Code 484(g)
  • Violating penal Code 484(i) is a wobbler with a severe penalty that includes a maximum of three years in county jail
  • Violating Penal Code 484(j) is a misdemeanor with a punishment of a maximum of six months of custody in county jail

You might also face further consequences such as deportation, being marked as inadmissible in the United States, and losing your rights to own or possess a gun. 

California Penal Code 470: Forgery

Under Penal Code 470, a person commits forgery when he or she fraudulently alters certain documents or falsifies a signature. Therefore, you might be charged with identity theft and forgery based on the facts surrounding your case.

Forgery crime is a wobbler in California. If you are facing misdemeanor charges, the potential punishment includes misdemeanor probation, a maximum of one year in county jail, and a maximum fine of $1,000.

If you face a felony charge, the potential punishment includes felony probation, a maximum of three years in county jail and a fine of up to $10,000.

You can only face misdemeanor charges if you were involved in forging a money order, check, or other similar instruments, and the instrument is worth $950.

California Penal Code 487: Grand Theft

Under California Penal Code 487, grand theft is defined as the unlawful taking of another person's property valued at $950 or more.

Grand theft is a California wobbler. The maximum potential sentence for a misdemeanor is a maximum of one year in county jail while a felony charge attracts a sentence of 16 months, 2, or 3 years in the state prison.

California Penal Code 530.5(e): Mail Theft

Mail theft in California is defined under Penal Code 530.5(e). Mail theft is closely associated with identity theft since most people involved in this crime use other people's mail to steal their personal identification information.

Mail theft is a misdemeanor under California laws. The possible punishment includes misdemeanor probation, a maximum of one year in county jail, and a maximum fine of $1000.

How to Effectively Choose an Attorney for Your Identity Theft Charges

Much like any other professional, you should be wise with your choice of attorney. Not only will you share your personal information, but you will be expecting the attorney to offer proper legal services that fit your situation. Here are several factors that you should think about when searching for a lawyer. 

Identify your Legal Situation and Determine Which Specialist Suits Best

You must understand which problem you are going through or facing to choose an attorney specialized in the legal area that suits your case. Identity theft charges fall under criminal law, and the best attorney suited for such cases is a criminal defense attorney. Choosing a criminal defense attorney increases the possibility of achieving the best outcomes in your case.

Ensure That Your Attorney Has Experience

Working with an experienced attorney would be critical in achieving the best results in your case. Therefore, you should find an attorney with a track record of success with the specific type of problem that you are facing.

Some of the factors that you should evaluate are the number of similar cases that the attorney has handled, length of service, and prior results in such cases. An experienced attorney will bring knowledge on the adversaries and develop winning strategies related to your problem. Use the attorney's law firm website for an insight into the attorney's experience.

Check Whether the Attorney is a Good Communicator

Attorneys earn a living communicating with their adversaries, the jury, and judges. Therefore, you should find an attorney who can communicate effectively. Your attorney should participate in questioning you and keeping you up-to-date with the development of your case without having you call first.

The attorney should also communicate in an organized and understandable manner and maintain in-person communication when appropriate. The attorney should also realize that over-communicating might be unnecessary.

Evaluate the Attorney's Level of Professionalism

Maintaining professionalism is more than a person's personality. It involves particular objective actions and behavior that distinguish a reasonable attorney from being merely competent. Among other things, you would expect a professional attorney to:

  • Work enthusiastically to protect your interest
  • Return your calls and communicate promptly
  • Maintain respect on you despite your position, role, and status
  • Follow all applicable ethical canons

Choose an Attorney from Your Region

An attorney from your region has a better understanding of the local laws and procedures. Moreover, you can achieve better results if you maintain face-to-face communications compared to communicating on telephone conferences and email.

Seek References on the Attorney

You should consult your attorneys’ former clients to have a clear view of whether they are suitable for your choosing. However, you need to be careful with the attorneys' references since they could offer the most glowing references that are not true. Online resources would be a suitable background to provide the information you need to know your attorney. One of the best backgrounds to rely on is the local bar association.

Assess the Extent of Network and Resources that Attorney Has

The kind of firm that you pick depends on the nature of your problem. A larger firm can handle complicated cases and have enough resources to handle your lawsuit within the shortest time possible.

A large firm would also likely have informative websites, educational publications, and other resources that would benefit your legal problem.

Check Whether there is Compatibility between You and the Attorney

While a particular attorney might seem suitable for you, his or her character should be a factor in your decision. Therefore, you should find someone who is trustworthy and makes you feel comfortable. Mutual respect is essential and would help both of you exercise good judgment and have the attorney work hard. 

Ask About the Fees

At some point in your decision-making process, you will need to consider the amount you will have to pay for the services offered by the attorney. Most attorneys bill their services by the hour, but nowadays, alternative billing methods have become increasingly popular. It is recommendable to discuss this essential aspect to avoid any form of disagreements in the end.

Ask what other charges you can expect from the attorney while handling your case. This includes copying, postage, travel charges, expert fees, etc.

Find a Criminal Lawyer Near Me

It is essential to speak to an attorney once you discover that you are being investigated for identity theft. At the Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we understand your specific law issue and know that it can be stressful. We are ready to offer top-notch legal services by evaluating your case and developing suitable defenses that would help reach the best result. Call us at 714-262-4833 to learn more about us and how we can make a difference in your case.