Theft is a crime committed against someone else's property. In general, this crime happens when you take somebody else's property without their consent and completely deny them access to it. California statutes describe different types of theft, one of which is petty theft, defined under Penal Code 484 (a). Prosecutors typically pursue the crime as a misdemeanor, which carries the risk of placing you in jail. It is a good idea to handle the charges against you with seriousness and engage legal help as soon as you're arrested.

If you have been arrested for petty theft in Chula Vista, the Chula Vista Criminal Attorney is here to help. Our skilled defense attorneys are familiar with the laws that pertain to theft cases, as well as the penalties and the appropriate defense techniques, making us qualified to defend your freedom and rights.

Overview of Petty Theft Crimes

California Penal Code 484(a) makes it a crime to take another person's property without their permission. According to this law, you must intend to take the object indefinitely from its owner or hold it briefly but for a substantial amount of time to prevent its owner from using or enjoying it. Finally, you should have had to move the stolen property and keep it for the crime to be completed, no matter how long it takes. Additionally, the product or service should not be more than $950.

Keep in mind that it cannot be regarded as petty theft when you take a property physically from its owner’s immediate person, such as clothes, body, or a bag they are carrying, even though the property’s value is not over $950. Rather, you will be charged with robbery or mugging. The property should not be stolen physically from the proprietor for the crime to be classified as petty theft.

Additionally, the item you take from the owner without permission cannot be either of the following items listed below:

  • A gun or a firearm

  • Aquaculture goods or fish worth $250 or more when obtained from a commercial fish setting

  • Horse

  • Any type of vehicle

  • Nuts or fruits worth more than $250

Types of Petty Theft

The type of elements of a crime describes how the offense was perpetrated. Theft involves taking someone else's property through deception. The offense of petty theft varies depending on the elements of the offense and the form of larceny, the factors the prosecutor must prove in every form of theft vary. The following sections discuss the many types of thefts that coun as petty theft, as well as the criteria that the prosecutors must establish under each classification:

Theft By False Pretenses

Theft by pretenses happens when you purposely deceive or lie to someone who owns the item to persuade them to surrender control or ownership to you. The following are examples of deceptive representation as defined by Penal Code 532:

  • Sharing inaccurate information knowingly

  • Claiming that a statement is correct without a reasonable justification for doing so

  • Making promises that you do not intend to keep

  • Failure to provide or withhold information when requested to

It's important to mention that when the person who fell victim to your deceptive statement counts on the deception to surrender ownership or custody of the item you're guilty of violating Penal Code 532. It means that your victim must have transferred the property's ownership as a result of your deception. You will not face Penal Code 532 infringement penalties if there was another reason, but pretenses do not have to be the main reason.

Being convicted for theft based on false representations does not occur unless the prosecution's accusations are substantiated by proof. As a result, the prosecutor must show evidence to back up the claims of pretenses. They could use the following proof:

  • False writing that is likely to contain a forged documentation

  • A single witness, as well as evidence or confirmation from probably two other witnesses, confirming that you acted under pretenses

  • The accused's handwritten or signed document

Demanding tangible proof from the prosecutors is critical in averting false allegations and the sentencing of innocent persons. False accusations are prevalent, especially when business arrangements do not go as expected. As a result, the one-of-a-kind proof needed in these circumstances helps to eliminate the likelihood of wrongfully accused people being sentenced.

Petty Theft By Physically Carrying Someone else's Property

Most petty theft instances involve a type of theft referred to as larceny. This form of theft entails physically removing the property from someone else to rob them of enjoying that item. The prosecutor must prove certain elements to convict someone of this crime. One of the elements is that you took ownership of someone else's property. Also, you did not have the proprietor's permission as you were physically seizing the property.

In addition, the prosecutors must show that you had ulterior reasons for stealing the item. They do so by demonstrating that at the moment when you seized ownership of the property in question, you had a long-term strategy to deny the rightful proprietor of its enjoyment.

Even if you only take the property from the proprietor momentarily or even for a brief period, you are still guilty of this offense. You are still culpable if the proprietor misses out on the enjoyment or ownership of the item for a significant period.

The prosecutor must prove that you transported the property from its original location, despite the distance, as the concluding aspect of this form of petty theft.

Theft By Embezzlement

Embezzlement is classified as a white-collar crime that entails utilizing property given to you by someone else for personal benefit, as per California Penal Code 503. If the item is worth less than $950, the crime is classified as petty theft. When prosecuting petty theft through embezzlement charges, the prosecuting lawyer must show that when you received the item given to you, you intended to deprive the legal owner of its use or enjoyment, even though it was only for a short time.

If you are entrusted with the management of another person's property, you will be subject to face these charges. However, rather than doing that, you abuse the owner of the property’s faith and trust in you by causing them to suffer losses or by utilizing that property to profit yourself rather than them.

Take into account that you cannot defend yourself against these accusations by saying that you intended to give back the item to the proprietor. The prosecutor must show that somebody trusted you with their belonging, but you betrayed their faith in you by abusing it.

Petty Theft By Trickery

Penal Code 484 defines petty theft using trickery. This statute makes it illegal to intentionally and illegally take somebody else's property through tricks. It should be evident that you intended to deprive its proprietor of it indefinitely or for a significant period, sufficient to deprive them of their enjoyment, for accusations to be filed against you. In addition, the prosecution should prove that the owner of the property had no intention of surrendering ownership or control.

It's worth noting that petty theft by trickery could appear to be theft by deception or false representation. However, these two aren't the same because even with deception, the owner merely transfers authority over the property, and not ownership. The owner, on the other hand, forfeits authority over the property and official possession when theft is committed under pretenses.

A good illustration of theft by trickery is obtaining someone's property, such as a phone, by pretending to fix it. You end up keeping it rather than completing the repair or after they are completed. You could be charged with and convicted for petty theft by trickery under these instances.

Assessing the Value of Property in Theft Cases

The worth or value of the items stolen is usually a big factor in whether you'll be charged with grand theft or petty theft. It is much easier to determine the cost of an item when the cost is written on it. However, when that pertains to personal belongings such as jewelry, the judge refers to the fair market value to determine its worth.

The reasonable market value of a product is the maximum price it could sell for if it were put on the market at the locality where it has been stolen. So, if you took the jewelry in Chula Vista CA, the court and prosecuting team will base their decision on the current fair market pricing in the area.

If you take jewelry from someone else's home, determining the fair market valuation of the jewelry could be challenging. This is particularly true when the jewelry is an antique and was purchased several years ago by the owner. Determining the fair market price, which helps decide whether the offender should incur petty or grand theft penalties, becomes a major challenge in such a matter.

Reducing Petty Theft Penalties

A petty theft conviction can have devastating effects in many areas of your life. As a result, you should do all to keep the allegations or sentence off your background. The most effective way of doing this is to have the charges dropped or to participate in a rehabilitation program.

To begin, you could have the misdemeanor petty theft charges lowered to an infraction, and you should not have previously been convicted of a Penal Code 488 infringement or another type of theft offense. Also, the worth or value of the item you stole must be less than $50. When you meet these conditions, the judge will reduce your charges to an infraction, which will result in a court fine of not more than $250 and no jail sentence.

Additionally, you can enroll in a petty theft rehab program, which allows the judge to discharge all of your charges once you complete it successfully. Your criminal defense lawyer will be critical during this process since they'll be negotiating with the prosecutors to find a means to keep the offense from your record. If the lawyer is successful in persuading the prosecutors in imposing a diversion course, the judge will set the terms of the program. Your charges will be discharged if these conditions have been met.

The following are the requirements you must meet:

  • Pay the entire value of the item you stole

  • Participate in an anti-theft course

  • Complete community service and hours for the agreed-upon period

Petty Theft Penalties and Sentencing Guidelines

Petty theft is prosecuted as a misdemeanor and carries a maximum fine of $1,000 and a maximum sentence of six months in county jail. In some cases, the judge could impose summary probation rather than a six-month jail sentence. This form of probation does not require you to meet with your probation officer regularly.

Additionally, the judge can impose a maximum court fine of $1,000.

In addition, the court will review your criminal background, but if you've been previously sentenced for any of the below-mentioned offenses, you could face an enhancement to your sentence:

  • Carjacking

  • Petty theft

  • Taking possession of the stolen property

  • Grand theft

  • Burglary

  • Robbery

Nevertheless, there are additional factors that the court evaluates in addition to your criminal background when considering a penalty enhancement for any petty theft offense with a prior. If you have a past conviction for elderly abuse, such as stealing from, deceiving, or defrauding a senior citizen, your sentence could be enhanced. In addition, the court will look to see if you have ever been charged with a sex offense that requires you to register as a sex offender or a violent or serious crime such as homicide.

During your court hearing, the prosecution can disclose that you have a criminal past, which will enhance your penalty. However, when they are unable to present this evidence during the trial, they could petition for a bifurcated trial. You'll have two separate trials overseen by two separate juries for situations like these. One trial establishes culpability for the underlying charge, while the bifurcated trial establishes that you have formerly been convicted, prompting the enhancement of your sentence.

It's worth noting that before the passage of Proposition 47 if you had been charged with petty theft and had a prior record, the penalties were severe. However, you will only be subject to the statute if you've been convicted of three previous convictions for which you have served time in prison.

Holding a previous record now carries fewer penalties. If you had been sentenced before Proposition 47, you could appeal the case and be given a conviction under the new statute, resulting in drastically reduced charges.

If you satisfy or fulfill the conditions established following the enactment of Proposition 47, a petty theft offense with a prior is a wobbler offense depending on the nature and details of the offense. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor, you will be sentenced to a maximum of twelve months in jail. However, a felony sentence will result in a sentence of sixteen, twenty-four, or thirty-six months in state prison.

Expunction of a Criminal Record for Petty Theft

As previously stated, sentencing for theft could have far-reaching consequences in all areas of your life, including your career, image, and professional license. Fortunately, if you have been convicted, Penal Code 1203.4 absolves you of all the consequences of your sentence.

You are eligible for an expungement when you satisfy the following conditions:

  • You have completed your probation and met all of the court's obligations

  • You are not currently facing any criminal charges, or serving a prison or jail sentence for an offense

  • You were not imprisoned in state prison and could not have been convicted to jail as per Proposition 47

It's important to note that if you break one or more of the probationary terms, your probation will not have to be revoked. Even though you failed to meet part of the probation criteria, the courts have the authority to have your record expunged.

However, when you're a sex offender, you can't receive an expungement. If you perpetrate a sex offense against a child, the same rules apply. After the record has been expunged, a potential employer can't refuse you a position for a job or a job promotion depending on the expunged record. Additionally, you are not obliged to reveal your previous arrest or sentence to potential employers unless you're running for an elective post or are planning on becoming a public official.

You are also qualified for an expungement when the following conditions are met:

  • You were arrested, but the prosecutor's office never pressed charges against you

  • The statute of limitations deadline for filing charges has passed

  • The allegations were brought, but the court subsequently dropped them

  • You were acquitted after a trial

  • The conviction was overturned by an appeals court

  • The charges against you were dropped after you finished the petty theft rehabilitation program

Legal Defenses For Petty Theft Charges

Even though expunction is beneficial for your case, it isn't the most ideal option. You do not have to wait until after you have been convicted to begin the expunction procedure. You can challenge the allegations in court and avoid a conviction, which means you will not have any records to expunge. Thankfully, your lawyer can assist you in contesting the prosecutor's claims or charges against you. The following are legal defenses that could be used to dispute the charges:

You had the Consent or Permission From the Owner

Remember that petty theft generally occurs when you take someone else's belongings without their consent. As a result, if you could prove that you had the owner's permission to take the item, you'll have a strong legal defense for your charges. Consent from the property's owner, on the other hand, will not be considered a legal defense when you got permission by deception.

You Borrowed the Property

Remember, one of the most important things the prosecution must show is that when you stole or took the item, you intended to irreparably dispossess its owner. As a result, claiming that you only borrowed the property and intended to return it afterward is a good defense. You must show that you tried to bring back the item to its owner after a decent period once you obtained it to build this defense.

You had a Reasonable Belief that the Property Belonged to You or that You had a Claim to It

The claim of right is another legitimate defense for this offense. You can claim that you assumed in good faith the asset was yours and that you possessed the authority to acquire it.

You had no Intention of Stealing

The prosecutors must show that you intended to steal the property. For this reason, if you didn't plan to steal the object or dispossess its owner of using it, you won't be charged with petty theft.

If it is a charge of petty theft with deception, you can show that you did not intend to deceive the victim by claiming that you were uninformed that what you stated was incorrect and did not intend for the plaintiff to think it was true. Demonstrating a lack of purpose is a challenging task, thus you'll need the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

A lawyer can provide you with counsel and various insights on your issue. Theft lawyers are trained to spot common flaws in the prosecutor's case. If the prosecutor has a strong case, they can tell. Such expertise, combined with their expertise in defending people accused of theft, could provide you with a distinct viewpoint that could help you avoid a conviction or secure alternative sentencing alternatives.

Find an Experienced Criminal Attorney Near Me

A simple misunderstanding or false accusation can result in you being charged with petty theft, which carries harsh penalties such as jail time, huge court penalties, as well as a criminal history that will follow you permanently. As a result, if you are facing these allegations, you should obtain legal advice from a skilled criminal defense attorney. The Chula Vista Criminal Attorney is here to assist you in challenging these allegations. Please call us at 619-877-6894.