California law treats theft crimes harshly and could lead to prison/ jail sentences, heavy fines, stained reputation, and a permanent criminal record. If you face even the least serious of California theft crimes, it is truly a serious issue. Because of the possible penalties, you want to hire nothing short of the best criminal defense attorney. 

At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we deeply understand the various laws that define and punish theft crimes. We are acquainted with the local court processes and build solid defense strategies to help fight your charges. We unreservedly apply our legal expertise with your best interest at heart. 

What California Theft Crimes Are

In California, theft crime happens when you steal property and deprive its owner of it, whether temporarily or permanently.  Under California law, theft crimes entail a vast range of criminal charges, including misdemeanors and felonies. The charges the District prefers against you hang on the circumstances surrounding the crime and your criminal record. 

While many theft crimes involve acts of stealing, some do not directly involve stealing. For example, violating California PC 496 doesn’t require the prosecutor to prove that you took another person’s property and permanently deprived them of the property. 

California theft crimes could be charged as grand theft or petty theft crime depending on the value of the item you stole. If the value of the property in question is above $950, you face grand theft charges. Note that there are some exceptions, including if the property you stole is an automobile, a firearm, or a farm animal. Another exception is if you stole the property directly from the victim. You are charged with grand theft regardless of the value of the property you stole nor the time you stole it. 

The rest of the theft cases where the property value does not exceed $950 or fall under the exceptions are charged under petty theft. The court determines the stolen property’s value by the existing market value when the crime was committed. If you stole services, their worth is computed as per their contract price. If a contract price does not exist, the worth is determined by the reasonable wages of the services.  

Petty Theft Offenses, California PC 484

California PC 484 describes and punishes pretty crime. Per the statute, you commit petty theft by stealing another person's property with a $950 value or less. Exceptions of property that fall under this crime are explained above. Elements of this crime that the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt in court are:

  • You took property belonging to someone else. 
  • You took the alleged property without the owner’s permission.
  • You intended to deprive the owner of their property permanently.
  • You took and moved the property, even a small distance, and had it for a given time, however brief.

Petty theft has several forms that could see you face charges in California, including: 

  • Theft by larceny — you commit this type of petty theft when you physically take and go away with someone else’s property. Property inclusive under this category includes furniture, jewelry, sporting equipment and gear, appliances, electronic equipment, and clothing.
  • Theft by trick — before the judge can convict you, the prosecution must prove various elements. Firstly, you obtained property belonging to another person. Secondly, you used deceit to make the property owner give you their property. Thirdly, you kept the property for a certain time, however small. Fourthly, you intended to deprive the owner of their property permanently. Lastly, the property owner never intended to transfer ownership to you.
  • Theft by false pretense — you commit this crime when you intentionally and knowingly deceive another person to take their property. The prosecutor must prove that you persuaded the property owner and made them rely on your false pretense. 
  • Theft by embezzlement — The prosecution charges you with this crime if you fraudulently take property entrusted to you and use it for your benefit. 

Grand Theft Offenses

As mentioned above, grand theft involves taking another person’s property worth $950 or above. In California, this crime is a wobbler. Possible penalties if found guilty of a misdemeanor crime, serving time in jail for not more than one year. If convicted for a felony grand theft, you could serve time in prison for 16 months, two years, or three years. Grand theft crime types are similar to petty theft crime types. However, the primary difference is the value of the property stolen. 

Types of Theft Crimes in California

Per California law, you commit a theft crime by stealing someone else’s property, intending to deprive them of it. You could face various felony or misdemeanor charges depending on the severity of your crimes or criminal record. In California, you could face theft charges even without being directly involved in stealing. For example, facing a charge for receiving stolen property under Penal Code 496. The prosecutor is not required to prove that you took someone else’s property. 

1.  Petty Theft With a Prior, Penal Code 666 PC

California PC 666 defines and punishes the offense of petty theft with a prior. You commit this crime by being involved in petty theft crime while you have particular prior offenses records. Since the crime is a wobbler in California, the prosecution could charge you with a felony or misdemeanor. Upon conviction, you could serve time in prison for not more than three years. 

Per PC 488, you are convicted of petty theft if found guilty of stealing someone else’s property with a $950 value or lower. You receive a sentencing enhancement for a Penal Code 488 conviction if:

  • You have a prior theft crime conviction.
  • You have served time in a penal institution upon conviction.
  • You have a prior conviction for a particular sex crime or violent crime.

Penalties for PC 666

Petty theft is a misdemeanor, and possible punishment is a six-month jail sentence. Petty theft with a prior is a wobbler; therefore, the prosecutor could charge you with a felony or misdemeanor. If convicted of a felony, possible punishment is serving not more than three years in jail. A misdemeanor conviction is punishable by up to a one-year jail term. 

2.  Looting, Penal Code 463 PC

Penal Code 46 punishes looting. You commit a looting crime when you take advantage of a state of emergency to commit petty theft, grand theft, or burglary. In California, looting is a wobbler and punishable by three years in jail or below. A state of emergency could involve situations like riots, floods, fires, earthquakes, or other human-made/ natural disasters. 

Examples of situations where the prosecution could charge you with a PC 463 violation include:

  • A wildfire engulfed a significant part of your town, causing the mayor to declare a state of emergency. While people are evacuating the town, you stop by your local shop and find no attendant present. You decide to take a dozen beer cans without paying. 
  • After an appalling case of police misconduct, a riot sparks across your city, and people begin breaking the windows of a camera shop. You walk inside and take several pieces of equipment. 

Penalties for PC 463 

The court sentences you depending on the particular crime you are alleged to have committed. In California, looting by petty theft is a misdemeanor. On the other hand, looting by grand theft or burglary are wobblers, which means that the prosecution could charge you with either a felony or misdemeanor. 

Upon a misdemeanor conviction, you could face a one-year jail sentence. If convicted for a felony looting crime, you serve time in prison for sixteen months, two years, or three years. Looting by grand theft or burglary has a minimum jail sentence serving 180 days in jail. Looting by petty theft, a misdemeanor, also has a possible sentence of 90 days to six months in jail.

3.  Burglary, Penal Code 459 PC

California PC 459 punishes burglary crimes. You commit burglary when you enter a residential or commercial structure or locked car, intending to commit petty theft, grand theft, or a felony offense. The law states that this crime is considered complete when you enter the property or vehicle with criminal intent, even though the intended violation is never accomplished.

First and Second Degree Burglary Crimes

California burglary law is split into first- and second-degree. First-degree burglary is a residence, while second-degree burglary is that of any other structure type like businesses and shops. Many people confuse shoplifting with burglary. Note that burglary is different from shoplifting, which is defined under PC 459.5. Passed into law after the voter initiative Proposition 47 in 2014, you commit shoplifting when you enter an open premise intending to steal goods worth $950 or less.

Examples of burglary commissions are:

  • Walking into a bank intending to commit check fraud.
  • Breaking into someone else’s house while the owner is away, intending to steal jewelry and electronics.
  • Entering an unlocked apartment belonging to a woman intending to rape her.

Punishment for Burglary

In California, also known as residential burglary, first-degree burglary is a felony. If convicted, you could face imprisonment for two, four, or six years. Second-degree burglary is also referred to as commercial burglary in California. The crime is a wobbler, which means the prosecution could charge you with either:

  1. A burglary misdemeanor with a potential jail sentence of not more than one year.
  2. A felony misdemeanor with a possible prison sentence of 16 months, two years, or three years.

3.1. Auto Burglary

You are said to commit auto burglary when you enter someone else’s vehicle, locked, intending to steal it, property inside the car, or commit a felony while inside the vehicle. The prosecutor could charge the offense as a misdemeanor or a felony hanging on the case’s circumstances. Auto burglary is a subdivision of PC 459.

Note that the court cannot convict you of the burglary of an automobile by the simple act of breaking into another person’s vehicle. The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you broke into the car with an intent to steal property inside the vehicle. 

Examples of actions that could lead to burglary of an automobile charge are:

  • Using tools like a screwdriver to unlock a vehicle intending to steal.
  • Smashing a locked vehicle's window to steal a smartphone from the storage compartments belonging to the car’s owner.
  • Breaking into a vehicle intending to kidnap the owner when they enter their car

Penalties for Auto Burglary

The burglary of an automobile crime is considered a second-degree burglary. As mentioned above, second-degree burglary is a wobbler. So, the prosecutor has the jurisdiction to charge you with a felony or a misdemeanor. Upon conviction of an auto burglary misdemeanor, possible punishment is serving a jail term of one-year maximum. If convicted of an auto burglary felony, possible punishment is a prison sentence of 16 months, two years, or three years.

4.  Burglary of A Safe or Vault, Penal Code 464 PC

California PC 464 is the statute that punishes burglary of a safe or vault offense. You are charged with a PC 464 violation when you enter a building intending to commit a crime inside and then use explosives or a torch to blow up a vault or safe. A torch refers to an electric arc, acetylene torch, burning bar, oxygen lance, or thermal lance. The “torch” should have the capability of burning through concrete, steel, or other solid substances.  Then again, explosives refer to substances like gunpowder, dynamite, or nitroglycerine. If convicted, you could serve in prison for a period not exceeding seven years. 

Also known as safecracking or safe blowing, a PC 464 violation entails particular elements that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt before the judge can convict you. These include:

  • Proof that you entered a building.
  • While in the building, you blow open a money safe, gun safe, or vault.
  • You opened the safe using explosives. 
  • Also, when breaking into the building, you intended to commit another offense.

Under the statute, the acts of breaking into another person’s house and opening a vault are two separate occurrences. Simply put, the first act is entering a building, and the second one is opening a secure space. 

Penalties of Burglary of A Safe or Vault

A PC 464 violation is a felony in California. If found guilty, you could face punishment like:

  • Formal/ felony probation
  • A prison sentence of three, five, or seven years
  • A $10,000 fine or lower

Note that a PC 464 violation is a deportable offense, which means that you could be considered inadmissible in the US if convicted.

5.  Robbery, Penal Code 211 PC

Under PC 211, you commit robbery by feloniously taking someone else’s property from their possession or immediate presence. You take this property against the owner's consent using fear or force. You could face up to nine in prison if the judge finds you guilty. 

Examples of robbery incidents include: 

  • After the property owner catches you stealing, for instance, committing petty theft or grand theft, you threaten to cause physical harm to them, intending to escape.
  • Drugging another person, then stealing their property while they are unconscious.
  • Illegally entering a home while the occupants are present, and threatening them with bodily injury, and stealing their possessions.

Penalties of Robbery

In California, robbery is considered a felony crime. The particular judge's sentencing depends on whether you committed a first-degree or second-degree robbery. You face a first-degree robbery if you rob:

  • A driver or passenger aboard a streetcar, cable car, taxi, or bus. 
  • Anyone inside an inhabited building.
  • Someone who has just withdrawn money from an ATM and they are within the ATM’s vicinity.

If convicted of a first-degree robbery, you could serve a prison sentence of three to nine years. Possible punishment for second-degree robbery is serving time in prison for two, three, or five years. 

6.  Receiving Stolen Property, Penal Code 496 PC

Per California law, you violate PC 496 when you buy, sell, conceal, or receive property that you are aware that it’s stolen. The crime is a wobbler, and you could face up to a 3-year jail sentence if found guilty. Examples of acts that could make you face charges under PC 496 are:

  • Buying a smartphone that was stolen from another person knowingly.
  • Helping your spouse hide a necklace they stole from a jewelry store.

Penalties of Receiving Stolen Property

In California, PC 496 is a wobbler. If charged as a misdemeanor, possible punishment is summary probation, a $1,000 fine or less, or serving time in jail for not more than one year. If convicted of a felony offense, the court could sentence you to jail for up to three years, formal probation, or order you to pay a maximum fine of $10,000. The prosecution only charges you with a misdemeanor if the value of the property involved is $950 or lower.

7.  Misappropriation of Public Funds, Penal Code 424 PC

You face charges for a PC 424 violation if you, as a public officer/ trustee of public funds misappropriate the funds for improper use. Possible penalty upon conviction is four years in prison, a fine not exceeding $10,000, and disqualified from holding a public office forever. Culprits who often face charges under PC 424 are local, and state officials or anyone tasked with controlling government money. 

You could face misappropriation of public funds if you are among the following persons:

  • A mayor who has misappropriated public funds to buy their lover gifts. In a bid to help them cover up the violation, the city treasurer destroys the financial records that could be proof of misappropriation. 
  • As a charter school principal, you take public funds meant for the school’s operation and lend them to your relative facing financial problems.
  • As a city’s mayor, you use city funds to buy a luxury sedan and keep it even after your term in office has elapsed. 

Penalties of Misappropriation of Public Funds

A 424 violation is a felony offense in California. If found guilty, possible penalties are two, three, or four years in prison.  The judge could also fine you up to $10,000 or sentence you to formal probation. A conviction also disqualifies you from holding a public office forever. 

8.  Embezzlement, Penal Code 503 PC

The crime of embezzlement happens when you unlawfully take property entrusted to you, intending to deprive the owner of its use. In California, a PC 503 violation is a wobbler. You are charged with a felony if the property value is over $950 or a misdemeanor if the property is below $950.  Examples of embezzlement include:

  • As an investor, taking your client’s funds to settle a gambling debt.
  • As a treasurer of a local sports club, you take a significant amount from the club’s bank account.
  • As a cashier at a local food store, you take cash from the drawers.

You commit an embezzlement misdemeanor if you take money or property with $950 or less. You would face embezzlement felony charges if the property or money were above $950. 

Punishment for Embezzlement in California

California law punishes embezzlement as petty theft or grand theft, depending on the property value and type borrowed or stolen. You face grand theft charges if the property is a firearm, an automobile, or valued at $950 or more. Grand theft is a wobbler, which means you could serve time in jail for one year or below upon a misdemeanor conviction or three years and below if convicted of a felony crime. 

9.  Shoplifting, Penal Code 459.5 PC

California PC 459.5 makes shoplifting a California misdemeanor crime. You commit shoplifting when you enter an open business intending to steal merchandise valued at $950 or less. Examples of shoplifting instances include:

  • Entering a local store intending to steal a dozen beer cans.
  • Walking into a bookstore, planning to purchase one pencil and sneak four others into a backpack.
  • Visiting a jewelry shop with the intent to steal a $500 necklace.

Penalties for Shoplifting

A 459.5 violation is a misdemeanor. Therefore, if found guilty, you face up to six months in jail or pay a fine not exceeding $1,000. Merchants could make a civil demand under California shoplifting laws. 

Common Defenses Theft Crimes

Depending on the circumstances surrounding your charges, there are several legal defenses that your lawyer could use to fight the allegations. These include:

False Accusations

Many defendants are wrongly arrested and falsely charged with grand theft and petty theft crimes. On many occasions, a deal gone wrong could make the plaintiff falsely accuse you with the intent of revenge or jealousy. 

You Borrowed the Property

You can only be convicted of a theft crime if the prosecution proves that you had the intent to deprive the property owner of it permanently. When defending you, the lawyer could argue that you took the property upon the owner’s consent and were going to return it after use. You must prove that you attempted to return the prop[erty after usage.

Claim Of Right

Your attorney could use the ‘claim of right’ legal defense to fight any theft crime charge. Your criminal defense lawyer could argue that you reasonably believed that the property rightfully belonged to you. The defense applies, irrespective of whether your belief was correct or mistaken. 

Find a Chula Vista Criminal Attorney Near Me

A theft crime could be serious, minor, or somewhere in between. Many theft crimes carry serious penalties. Because of this, you want to find a quality defense attorney as the primary step in fighting the charges. If you or a loved one faces any of the theft crimes described above, Chula Vista Criminal Attorney is here to help. 

Our criminal lawyers are among the most qualified and experienced in California. We ensure that your rights are protected, and you receive proper legal counsel during the hour of need. By calling us at 619-877-6894, you could rest assured that our highly knowledgeable and friendly team will help you.