Property offenses are any crimes that violate a person’s right to enjoy and use their possessions. The crimes manifest in various forms, including the permanent deprivation of property from the owner. Since property rights are legally protected, you will face legal repercussions for violating them, leading to criminal charges.
In California, the Penal Code provides for various property crimes that may attract misdemeanor or felony charges. Subsequently, your life may change if found guilty, as you will have to either spend time in jail or pay hefty fines. Further, the judge may direct you to begin a probation program, which lasts for a significant duration before completion.
You can avoid the harsh repercussions by working with a criminal defense lawyer. With their legal assistance, you will have a better understanding of the requirements to meet before trial. Further, your attorney should help you prepare defense strategies for use before and during the trial. At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, you will receive the best criminal defense services in Chula Vista, California. Our team consists of experienced lawyers who have successfully handled hundreds of criminal cases. Over the years, the defense craft has been perfected to cater to our clients’ different needs.
The Nature of Property Crimes
When you tamper with, destroy or illegally take possession of another person’s property, you will be answerable to various criminal charges depending on the elements of the crime. Typically, property crimes may occur after involvement in any of the mentioned actions, leading to possible prosecution.
Your criminal case may also involve joint charges whereby you are answerable to a property offense as well as violent crimes. This is based on the interrelated nature of the two categories of crimes. For example, persons committing vandalism may also be violent towards security officers guarding the area they intend to violate.
If your case entails a common charge, the repercussions are significantly harsher as you have committed two or more offenses. Subsequently, understanding the elements of crime leading to property offenses and the consequences of each crime may help you make adequate preparations.
Further, consulting your attorney on the various elements helps in preparing reliable defenses for your case. The following are common property crimes recognized in California:
Setting another person’s property on fire is considered a serious offense in California, as it may render the victim homeless. Additionally, most fires destroy the burned property. This makes recovery of goods difficult, even where an insurance provider assists. Section 451 of the Penal Code prohibits arson and classifies it as a felony for involved suspects.
Elements of Crime Related to Arson
The following are the elements that the prosecutor must prove in an arson criminal trial:
You Set Fire to a Building, Forest Area, or Property
The unlawful action in the offense is setting the mentioned areas or properties on fire, often done by igniting a flame against flammable liquids. Subsequently, the prosecutor’s evidence must show your active involvement in lighting the fire in the area in question.
You Maliciously Set the Structure, Property, or Forest Area on Fire
The criminal intent of your actions must also be evident to distinguish your actions from an accident. When determining malicious intent, the prosecutor may focus on any actions you undertook in preparation for the crime. These include buying petroleum in canisters and mobilizing others to join you in the activity.
Penalties for the Offense
When found guilty, you may face the following felony penalties:
- 16 months, two or three years in state prison for lighting a personal property on fire
- Two, four, or six years for committing arson on forest land
- Five, seven, or nine years in prison if the arson cause grievous bodily harm
Petty and Grand Theft
The general definition for theft as a criminal offense is wrongfully taking another’s property intending to deprive them of ownership permanently. Hence, the crime is punishable by law because it violates someone else’s right to enjoy their property.
While theft generally entails the same elements of crime, the Penal Code distinguishes between petty and grand theft. Section 484 of the Penal Code defines petty thrift as the unlawful taking of another’s property valued at $950 or less. Additionally, section 487 defines grand theft as committing the same offense, but the goods, in this case, are valued at above $950.
Elements of the Crime
Once charged with petty or grand theft, you want to understand the prosecutor’s possible case strategies. This helps you prepare for your defense with your criminal attorney’s help. The elements of theft are:
You Wrongfully Took Another Person’s Property
Accusations involving the wrongful taking of another’s property may mean that you lacked permission. Alternatively, you may have used violence, deception, or coercion to acquire the goods, resulting in illegality.
The Property was Worth More than $950 for Petty Theft or More than $950 for Grand Theft
Further, the prosecutor will gather information from the investigating officers concerning the value of goods stolen. The value of goods is determinable through the expert opinion of a professional valuer. Alternatively, the alleged victim may produce receipts of ownership to demonstrate that the goods were above or below the $950 threshold.
You Intended to Deprive the Owner of the Property Permanently
When you permanently deprive someone of a thing, they lack possession or control over it. Subsequently, it would be like the person lost it, meaning they cannot control the item. After the theft occurs, the prosecutor must therefore prove that the victim lacked access to their goods.
Penalties for Involvement in Theft
The punishment for the crime is divided into two categories. They are:
Petty Theft Penalties
Petty theft attracts misdemeanor charges leading to six months in county jail or a fine payment of up to $1000 if found guilty of the crime.
Grand Theft Penalties
Grand theft is a wobbler crime, resulting in either misdemeanor charges or felony charges. If found guilty of a misdemeanor offense, you may spend up to one year in county jail. Felony offenses result in sixteen months, two or three years in prison.
A similar offense to theft is committing burglary, contrary to section 459 of the Penal Code. The distinguishing factor between burglary and petty or grand theft is that burglary occurs by breaking into someone’s establishment or dwelling. On the other hand, theft is possible without entering into an establishment or structure.
Under section 459 PC, the offense may result in felony or misdemeanor charges. The difference in issued charges depends on the degree you committed the crime, as further discussed below.
Elements of the Crime
Some defining factors associated with burglary include entering restricted areas intending to commit an offense. However, the prosecutor must aim to demonstrate each crime element regarding the case circumstances for a comprehensive presentation. Subsequently, the prosecutor should demonstrate the elements of crime in your criminal involvement before the judge can issue a verdict on the matter. The main elements of crime associated with burglary are:
You Gained Access to a Building, Business Premise, Vehicle, or Structure Used as a Dwelling
The first element associated with the crime is breaking into a structure belonging to someone else. This may include a person's house, car, dwelling, or shelter, as well as any business premises. By breaking into the building or vehicle, you violate the affected person's right to enjoy uninterrupted possession of their property. As a result, legal repercussions based on burglary restrictions will apply.
The produced evidence may include photographs, surveillance footage, or witness testimonies from anyone who saw you enter. Without the sources of proof, you may have the upper hand in the trial, as reasonable doubt on the prosecutor's claims will remain.
You Intended to Commit a Criminal Offense After Entering the Structure
Further, the prosecutor should show that your intentions of entering the unauthorized area were unlawful. This distinguishes you from anyone else trying to save people in danger from the entered premise. The offense, therefore, requires the prosecution team to prove that you intended to commit a felony offense or theft.
If evidence shows that you intended to engage in a felony crime, the penalties issued may be significantly harsher. The enhanced sentence may come from the severity of the intended offense and whether you went through with it. On the other hand, an intention to commit theft may result in a more lenient outcome, mainly if you committed petty theft.
Nobody was Around When You Broke In
Breaking into a business establishment may not have direct repercussions. Nevertheless, the penal code provides that you may be prosecuted for entering the area when nobody is around. The rationale behind prosecuting the offenders is that they demonstrate an intention to commit an offense, as they might go undetected.
You Stole Property Worth More than $950
Some cases may also require the prosecutor to prove that you stole goods worth more than $950. However, the element is only relevant if you proceeded with the unlawful action successfully. Thus, in court, the prosecutor must prove the stolen goods before judgment is entered against you.
Penalties Issued for the Offense
If the prosecutor finds you guilty of the offense, you will face penalties depending on the circumstances of your crime. Usually, a burglary occurs in the first or second degree. A first-degree offense involves breaking into the victim’s residence to steal. The penalty under the category is a prison sentence lasting for two, four, or six years.
Alternatively, you may face a second-degree burglary charge, often classified as a wobbler crime. Thus, you may face misdemeanor penalties, leading to a maximum of one year in county jail. Felony penalties for second-degree burglary result in a jail sentence of sixteen months, two or three years.
Section 594 of the penal code prohibits vandalism, an offense characterized by maliciously damaging or lowering the quality of the property. Most vandalism cases involve unauthorized graffiti works on others’ property. You should note that the offense is a wobbler crime, leading to either misdemeanor charges or felony charges and punishment.
Elements for the Prosecutor to Prove
Once arraigned in court, the prosecutor must prove the elements below before the judge can issue any verdict. Failure to do so will give you a reasonable chance of defending yourself and possibly being acquitted. They include:
- You damaged someone else’s property by destroying it, inscribing writings, or graffiti art
- You jointly owned the property, or it did not belong to you
- You caused damage amounting to $400 or more
Penalties for Committing Vandalism
Felony charges and punishment are reserved for vandalism resulting in a loss of above $400. Consequently, you will face sixteen months, two or three years in prison, or a maximum fine of $10,000. On the other hand, misdemeanor offenses are issued for damages worth $400 or below, resulting in a fine payment of up to $1000 or a jail sentence of up to one year.
Receiving Stolen Property
Finally, receiving and handling stolen goods is also a punishable property crime, as it perpetuates the original crime. Under section 496, the offense may attract felony or misdemeanor charges depending on the circumstances of your case. Thus, upon facing arrest, you want to understand the possible arguments presented by the prosecutor against you.
Elements Leading to the Offense
The following are the elements of crime related to receiving stolen goods:
- You received, sold, concealed, or held onto the stolen property
- You were aware that the property was stolen when receiving it.’
When proving these elements, the prosecution team must demonstrate that you had control over the goods and that you possessed. Without the evidence, the prosecutor will struggle to prove your case beyond a reasonable doubt. In return, you may have a better chance to defend your case successfully.
Penalties for the Crime
As a misdemeanor, the offense results in:
- A jail sentence lasting for up to one year
- A fine payment of up to $1000
- Summary probation
As a felony, the judge may sentence you to:
- A jail sentence lasting for up to three years
- A fine payment of $10,000 as the maximum amount
General Defenses Applicable to Property Crimes
Before the trial begins, your criminal defense lawyer should draft defense documents depending on the prosecutor’s initial claims. Typically, the subject matter should aim to show your non-involvement in violating the law or a justification for your actions.
You should remember that not all defenses will apply to your criminal trial. For example, defendants involved in arson cases should focus more on demonstrating that they did not start a fire, or if they did, that it was accidental. Hence, your lawyer will advise you to focus on only a few defenses that play a significant role in portraying your position. Some applicable defenses include:
You Did Not Intend to Defraud the Victim
Property crimes involving taking away ownership or possession will also include the intention to defraud. The Penal Code defines fraud as misrepresentations or pretenses used to acquire benefits that do not belong to you. Applying the defense would be helpful in charges like receiving stolen property.
You may also include arguments like innocent intention or lack of knowledge about the ongoing criminal scheme when presenting the defense. Your attorney will often take the lead during court proceedings, as they are well-versed in the presentation procedures. Nonetheless, you may need to testify before the judge to strengthen the defense, so you want to be ready in advance.
There was no Intention to Deprive the Owner of the Property Permanently.
Additionally, crimes like petty and grand theft require the defendant to have an intent to deprive the owner of their goods permanently. Due to this, the prosecutor will focus on proving this element because it represents the criminal intent to break the law. Presenting this defense will benefit you as you can cast reasonable doubt on the prosecutor’s findings.
However, your case presentation should be convincing, as the judge may be less inclined to side with you if the proof against you is overwhelming. Thus, meeting with your attorney to strategize is important.
There was Police Misconduct in Your Prosecution
Although law enforcement officers should be guided by their code of conduct and ethical expectations, cases related to police misconduct exist. The misconduct may include planting evidence on your case to justify the arrest and prosecution.
For example, a police officer may collude with a malicious third party to place the stolen property in your home or vehicle hours before the arrest. Consequently, the arresting officers will report having retrieved the goods from your person, leading to a substantial accusation.
Alternatively, police misconduct occurs where false police reports are forwarded to the prosecutor owing to malicious intentions. Sometimes, you may have also faced duress with providing self-incriminating evidence contrary to constitutional provisions.
If you have faced police misconduct at any point after arrest, you should contact your lawyer as soon as possible. Their assistance in raising the issue is pivotal in helping you seek justice after subjection to incorrect legal procedures.
You Face False Accusations
False accusations may also lead to prosecution, mainly if the alleged victim provides convincing evidence sources. Sometimes, investigation officers may fail to verify the validity of the presented evidence despite it being false. Intent, therefore, translates to an unfair prosecution founded on false claims.
You can protect yourself from these claims or fight back by partnering with your criminal defense lawyer. Their involvement in the issue includes raising the matter before the prosecution team and the judge.
Although your concerns may be correct, you still need evidence to support the defense. This is especially important where your defense also includes elements of police misconduct in fabricating evidence.
There is a Lack of Probable Cause to Arrest You
Under the applicable legal provisions, a law enforcement officer must always show probable cause for arrest before taking you into custody. The requirement exists to help prevent unlawful or unwarranted arrests, coupled with malice against the suspect. If the officer lacks probable cause, you have the right to dispute arrest and seek further legal redress.
This defense may also apply where the arresting officer searched without a valid warrant. Since these searches aim to retrieve incriminating evidence, the officers conducting them should provide authorizing documents from the judge. If you can prove that the officers working on your case lacked probable cause or did not produce the search warrant, your claims may be valid.
Your Case Involves Mistaken Identity
Lastly, cases involving mistaken identity are not uncommon based on several reasons. Firstly, your appearance may resemble the suspect required for court arraignment, resulting in your wrongful arrest. Similarities in names also often result in mistaken identity cases, especially if the first name and the surname match.
Therefore, you want to raise the issues before the prosecutor begins preparing for trial. Any delays in notifying the prosecutor’s office about the error may later appear as a stall tactic, attracting more scrutiny to you. Additionally, raising the concerns will inevitably cause case delays later.
A diligent criminal defense attorney will play a crucial role in presenting the defense by providing all the requisite documents to prove your identity. If your defense is genuine, you will receive complete acquittal based on your non-indulgence in the alleged property crime.
When you face criminal accusations for a property crime, you want to prepare the best defense possible to avoid facing penalties. However, working on your case without an attorney may prove to be quite challenging, mainly because of the court technicalities. Your criminal attorney’s input and general support will be pivotal in your case as they will fight off the prosecutor’s claims. Further, your attorney plays a significant role in gathering valid evidence to cast reasonable doubt on the prosecutor’s case.
By working with Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, you will receive high-quality defense services. Our team is ready to handle your case despite the technicalities, thanks to our wealth of experience. Furthermore, we believe that each accused person has a right to present their version of events in a fair hearing before being found guilty. Therefore, we must represent our clients in Chula Vista, California, in the best way possible. With our help, you will secure a favorable case outcome that includes an acquittal or a sentence reduction. For more information on property crimes and applicable defenses, contact us today at 619-877-6894.