California law defines theft as intentionally and unlawfully taking another person’s property without their consent or permission, planning to convert it into your (the taker) personal use. The law classifies theft under petty or grand theft based on the cost of the said property. Grand theft is the severe form of this offense, punishable by a maximum of three years in jail and a hefty fine. A grand theft conviction in California can be life-changing, affecting different aspects of your life, including your career and social life.
Thus, hiring a competent criminal attorney is necessary if you face charges for grand theft in Chula Vista, CA. Your attorney will put up a good fight against your charges to help you avoid a severe conviction and its effects. At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we’ll be with you from the start of the legal process to the end to protect your rights and fight for a fair outcome of your case.
Legal Definition of California Grand Theft
California law against grand theft is under PC 487. The law makes it unlawful for anyone to take another person’s money, property or labor, worth $950 or more. The basis for the legal interpretation of this offense is on specific facts, which are the elements of this offense. They are the facts that the district attorney must prove beyond reasonable doubts for the court to find you guilty of the offense. In California, you could violate grand theft laws in various ways. Thus, the elements of this offense are unique, based on the type of theft you have committed.
Grand Theft Through Larceny
You could face charges for grand theft through larceny if you carry away another person’s valuable tangible property like money or a car. If you face charges for this form of theft, the district attorney must prove the following elements of the offense for the jury to find you guilty as charged:
- That you took into possession a tangible property belonging to someone else
- That you did not have the owner’s permission to take that property
- By taking that property into your possession, you intended to deprive its owner of the property permanently or remove it from its owner for a significant amount of time, enough for its owner to be deprived of the property’s enjoyment or value.
- You moved that property (however slight the distance was) and retained it for some time (even a brief moment counts)
Example: Liz and Matt recently moved to a new neighborhood. They are broke and can barely afford the necessities. Since moving in, they have been borrowing a lot of stuff from their neighbor Tim. Tim has a stable job and can afford most appliances that Liz and Matt don’t have in their home. While Tim was at work one afternoon, Liz sent Matt over to Tim’s house to borrow a vacuum cleaner. Matt lets himself in through the backdoor. The couple is not planning to give the vacuum cleaner back to its owner anytime soon.
They could face charges for grand theft through larceny. Even though they planned to take the vacuum cleaner back, they took it without Tim’s permission, moved and kept it for a significant period, enough for its owner to lose its enjoyment or value.
Surprisingly in California, some shoplifting cases could give rise to grand theft through larceny charges if the worth of the property exceeds $950.
Grand Theft Through False Pretenses
The law against theft through false pretenses is under California PC 532. The offense is legally defined using the following elements:
- That you intentionally and knowingly deceived another person by telling them something that was not true — It is an act of making false pretenses
- You made that false pretense of persuading the person to allow you to possess their property
- The person believed you and relied on that false pretense, thereby letting you have ownership and possession of the property
Making false pretenses is a technical statement that might not be obvious, even to the jury. Thus, California law has provided a detailed explanation of what it means when a person makes false pretenses. According to the state law, you could be guilty of making a false pretense if you do the following:
- You intend to deceive another person
- You fulfill that intention by:
- Saying something you are sure is untrue
- Recklessly claiming that a matter is true even when you know it’s not
- Failing to give a crucial piece of information you are obligated to provide, or
- Making a false promise you have no intention of fulfilling.
Example: Esther and Jude have been working in the same organization for three years now. Esther knows how gullible Jude is and plans to use his weakness to her advantage. Recently, Jude obtained a vehicle on credit and is unsure whether he’ll keep up with the payments. Esther convinces Jude that the bank will repossess his vehicle as soon as he cannot make payment. She also lies to Jude that financial institutions are always not willing to re-negotiate repayment terms. That gets Jude agitated, to the point that he is willing to listen and accept any form of advice Esther has.
Esther intends to possess Jude’s vehicle without incurring the cost. She convinces Jude to let her use the car as they both contribute to the loan payments. Esther does not intend to keep the end of her bargain, and eventually, Jude loses his vehicle and money.
Esther could face conviction for grand theft through false pretenses.
Reliance is a significant element of this form of theft. The law requires the victim to have trusted your pretense to transfer possession of their property. It means that your false pretenses must have been the main reason the victim transferred their property ownership to you. However, it doesn’t need to be the only reason.
When you face charges for grand theft through false pretenses, the DA must prove certain unique elements. For instance, the DA must demonstrate the following before a court to prove that you genuinely made false pretenses:
- A false token or writing, or any other form of fake documents like a contract or check
- A written document detailing the false pretenses, handwritten or signed by you
- Eyewitness statements from two people or more people
- Eyewitness statement from one person, accompanied with another form of evidence
Documents and other forms of evidence are critical in cases involving grand theft through false pretenses. It is because, without proper evidence, some people can easily lodge false accusations against others after a deal and cause them to face severe penalties after a conviction. For instance, a person can change their mind and accuse another of theft after getting involved in a business deal. The law considers possibilities like these. That’s why the alleged victim must provide detailed evidence for the court to find you guilty under this law.
Grand Theft Through Deceit
The third type of grand theft occurs when you trick or deceive the alleged victim into giving up their valuable property. These are the elements of this offense, which the district attorney must prove for the court to find you guilty of grand theft through deceit:
- That you obtained another person’s property, even after knowing that the property belonged to someone else
- You accomplished this offense through deceit or fraud
- You took into possession the said property to deprive its owner of it for a long enough time for the owner to miss a significant enjoyment or value of that property.
- You retained the property in question for a significant amount of time, however brief.
- The alleged victim did not plan to transfer the ownership of their property to you.
Grand theft through deceit and grand theft through false pretenses are pretty similar in their elements. But they bear a significant difference. When a person commits grand theft through false pretenses, the victim trusts them entirely to the point of transferring both the ownership and possession of their property to the defendant. But when it comes to grand theft through deceit, the alleged victim only gives you control of the property, with no intention of transferring its ownership to you.
Example: Sam’s boss is traveling out of the country in a month. The boss will be gone for at least six months and is looking for ideas on safely leaving his household items and other possessions until he’s back. Sam tricks his boss into leaving his car in Sam’s garage, citing that it will be safer that way, and the (the boss) can find it safe and sound when he comes back. But Sam does not intend to hand the vehicle back to his boss when he returns to the country. Sam plans to relocate to another state as soon as his boss flies out.
If Sam’s boss leaves his car with Sam, he will leave it in Sam’s possession but not transfer the vehicle ownership to Sam. On the other hand, Sam could face conviction for grand theft by deceit if he truly leaves the state with his boss’ vehicle.
Grand Theft Through Embezzlement
California law against embezzlement is under California PC 503. Under this law, embezzlement occurs when:
- Another person has entrusted you with their property
- They did so out of trust
- You took the property and fraudulently kept or used it for your benefit
- You intended to deny the property owner of their property, temporarily or permanently
Thus, you could still face embezzlement charges even if you planned to give the property back to its owner.
In any of these forms of California grand theft, only the DA must prove that you committed the offense through any of those means. The jury does not need to agree on the exact form of this offense you committed to convict you under this law. The judge only needs to decide that you took another person’s property without their permission, and the worth of the property in question was greater than $950.
Penalties for Conviction Under California PC 487
Grand theft is a wobbler offense in California, meaning that the district attorney can charge it as a felony or misdemeanor. The prosecutor makes this decision based on your criminal record and the details of the case.
If you face misdemeanor charges for grand theft, you will likely receive a maximum of one year in jail. But if you face a felony charge for grand theft, the penalties will be stiffer and could include:
- Felony probation, plus a maximum of one year in jail
- Sixteen months, two or three years in prison, unless the property in question was a gun.
If the stolen property was a gun, the offense automatically becomes a felony, attracting a prison time of sixteen months, two or three years. Additionally, grand theft involving a firearm is classified under severe felonies in California and counts as a strike under the California Three-Strike Law.
On top of the penalties listed above, you are likely to receive additional, consecutive penalties for felony grand theft and if the worth of that property was relatively high. The court could give out these additional penalties as follows:
- Additional one year if the property’s value was more than $65,000
- An extra two years in prison if the property’s worth was more than $200,000
- Three more years in prison if the property’s cost was more than $1,300,000
- Additional four years of incarceration if the property’s worth was more than $3,200,000
To determine the property’s actual worth, the court will add the costs of all the properties you have stolen under one plan or scheme.
On the other hand, if you face multiple counts of theft against one victim, you will face charges for separate counts of this offense according to the number of theft acts you have committed against the victim. But if the several counts of theft were a part of a single scheme or plan, the court will treat it as a single case and charge you according to the property’s total worth.
Example: An employer (Peter) leaves the operation of his business to his manager (Jimmy) as he travels abroad for another business venture. Peter completely trusts Jimmy and is sure that his company and other employees will be in safe hands while out of the country. However, Jimmy has other plans. He starts embezzling small amounts of money from the company. By the time Peter realizes, Jimmy has taken a sum worth two million dollars from the company, but on four different occasions.
If arrested, Jimmy will face four different grand theft counts, not a single count since the theft incidents happened in different instances.
How To Fight Charges for Grand Theft in California
If you face charges for grand theft in California, it is advisable to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney for solid defense against your charges. It is the only way to avoid a conviction and its consequences. Your attorney will put up a fight to compel the court to either reduce or drop your charges. Fortunately for you, your attorney has several defense strategies that he/ she can use in your favor. The most common of these strategies are:
No Intent to Steal The Property
You must have intended to steal the property, keep it and deprive its owner of its use or enjoyment to be found guilty under California PC 487. Without this intent, you may not be guilty as charged. For instance, you must have mistakenly taken something that belonged to another person. In that case, you did not have the intent to keep it or even deprive its owner of the property.
Example: You might have accidentally carried your boss’s or colleague’s computer thinking it was yours. In that case, you did not intentionally take the computer or even keep it for your personal use.
Without intent, the court will drop your charges for grand theft.
You Had a Right to the Property
Your attorney can use this defense strategy if you reasonably and honestly believe that you have a right to the property in question. The judge cannot convict you for taking a property that you thought was yours. However, you must convince the court that you had good faith in believing that the said property was yours, despite whether or not the belief was correct.
Example: Your friend gave you a job in his company. You two have been like brothers since high school. Therefore, you always have your friend’s best interests in everything you do. One Friday evening, you use his business’ car to run personal errands because your vehicle was at the mechanics. You planned to take the car back the same day but were held up somewhere and could only bring it back on Monday. You honestly believe that your friend will not have an issue with it since you two are like brothers.
But your friend calls the police on you and accuses you of theft. You could have taken the vehicle out of a strong belief that you had a right to use it, considering the strong friendship you shared with your friend.
However, this belief will not work if you try to hide or conceal the said property when taking it. Also, the law doesn’t allow defendants to use this defense if they had illegally owned or obtained the property in question.
You Had the Owner’s Consent
Theft offenses usually occur without the victim’s consent. Therefore, the court cannot find you guilty under California PC 487 if you had the owner’s permission. However, your usage of the said property must be in line with that consent. Thus, if someone allowed you to use their property for a particular purpose or in a definite way, you could face charges if you used the said property for another purpose or differently. For instance, if someone allowed you to use their vehicle for one weekend, they’ll have a reason to believe that you are stealing their car if you kept it for weeks against their consent.
So many people face false accusations in California for crimes they did not commit. Thus, it is not unusual for you to cite false accusations to defend yourself against charges for grand theft. Someone else might have committed the offense, and not you. Or someone else might accuse you of a crime you did not commit for reasons like jealousy, a desire for revenge, or even to get even with you. It is vital to put up a good fight during the trial if you don’t want to go to jail for an offense you did not commit. An experienced criminal defense attorney will know the right strategies to apply to compel the court to drop your charges.
A Mistake of Facts
You could use this defense if you are facing accusations for an offense someone else committed. It can be that someone else close to you, and not you, committed the crime. For instance, a colleague steals your boss’ laptop, and you are accused of theft since you were in the office when the crime occurred. Or you were left in charge of the business, and someone else embezzled some funds. It is possible to face accusations if you were at the crime scene or were left in charge of the property.
In this case, your attorney’s primary task would be to convince the court of your innocence. Note that the court will not require you to name the perpetrator. If the defense team convinces the jury of your integrity, the court will dismiss your charges.
Find a Reliable Criminal Attorney Near Me
If you face charges for grand theft in Chula Vista, CA, you could be confused about what to do to avoid a conviction. Instead of handling the situation alone, hire an experienced criminal attorney to help you through the legal process. Your attorney will advise, guide you, and prepare a solid defense against your charges. He/she will ensure that you obtain a favorable outcome of your case. At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we understand the California criminal justice system too well to guide and protect your rights throughout the process. Call us at 619-877-6894 to discuss the details of your case.