In California, the law classifies property crime into two broad categories. Theft-related and non-theft-related property crimes. These crimes can range from vandalism, trespass, arson to armed robbery and burglary. With some of these crimes, you don’t have to go with the goods or injure the victim. Having an intent to commit a property crime is enough to convict you.
On the other hand, property crimes require you to leave with the goods or money. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we have represented numerous defendants charged with property crimes in Riverside. We are well versed with the California justice system, and we are committed to giving you first-rate legal representation. Read on to understand more about property crimes.
Types Of Property Crimes
As earlier stated, the law classifies property crimes into two broad categories, non-theft related violations, and theft-related violations. Some of the non-theft-related violations include vandalism, trespass, and arson. Theft-related crimes include larceny, auto theft, robbery, burglary, and other forms of theft.
Let’s look at these property crimes in more detail.
Vandalism, California Penal Code 594
The law against vandalism is described under California Penal Code 594. Vandalism can either be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. The penalties for the crime vary, and you can receive a light sentence or hefty fines and an extended jail time.
According to California law, you commit vandalism when you deface property with graffiti or any other inscribed material. Or maliciously destroy or damage property. You can also be charged with vandalism if you commit these acts on a property you don’t own or you co-own with someone else. If the amount of property you destroy or deface is less than $400, the crime will be charged as a misdemeanor. If it’s more than $400, it will be charged as a felony.
Understanding The Meaning Of Defaced With Graffiti Or Other Inscribed Material
If you inscribe, write, draw, mark, paint, scratch using any kind of tool on real or personal property without authorization, you can be charged with vandalism. “Real” property includes land and anything attached to the land, including building, a home. “Personal” property means anything else, including furniture or a vehicle. You can be charged with vandalism even if the graffiti or the markings aren’t permanent.
You can also be charged with the crime if you vandalize property you don’t own. This element of the crime means you can be accused of the violation if you vandalize public property like a public trash can or a picnic bench. If charged with vandalizing public property, the jury has permission to assume you don’t own the public property, and you are therefore guilty of vandalism, although the bench doesn’t belong to anybody.
You can also be charged with the crime if you vandalize any property you co-own. For example, if you enter into an argument with your spouse and destroy, damage, or deface the property you co-own.
Penalties For Vandalism Crimes In California
The court can charge the offense as a felony or a misdemeanor. If the property you vandalize is less than $400, the offense will be charged as a misdemeanor. The court can sentence you to a year in county jail. You can also be charged a fine of up to $1,000. If you have prior vandalism charges, the fine can go up to $5,000. The court can also sentence you to informal probation. You can also be charged and also be sentenced to probation.
The court charges the offense as a wobbler if the value of the property you vandalize is more than $400. A wobbler means the court can charge the offense as a felony or a misdemeanor. The prosecution bases the decision on the circumstances of the case and your criminal history.
If the court charges the offense as a felony, it can sentence you to a sixteen-month, two, or three-year jail sentence. The court can also sentence you to probation and a one-year jail term. You can also be fined up to $10,000 or a maximum of $50,000 if the value of the property you vandalized was more than $50,000.
Defenses Against Vandalism Charges
You can present some defenses against vandalism charges. Some of these defenses include:
You Can Claim It Was An Accident
You can argue that the vandalism was an accident, and you didn’t have any intention of damaging or destroying the property.
You Can State It Was A False Accusation
You can state the accusation is a false accusation. This defense is especially applicable where domestic violence is involved. You can argue your partner is leveling false accusations to get back at you.
Trespass, California Penal Code 602
According to California Penal Code 602, trespass is remaining or entering into somebody’s property without their authorization or when you don’t have a right to do so. For you to be guilty of trespass, the prosecution must prove you entered a person’s property willfully. They must also prove that you intended to interfere with the owner’s right to their property and that you interfered with their property right.
You can interfere with their property rights by damaging their property or interfering with their business. The term willfully as used in Penal Code 602 means you trespassed on purpose. You can be found guilty of the offense even if you didn’t intend to break the law.
Specific intent means you were aware of your actions and also the consequences of the actions.
Penalties For Trespass
The court can charge trespass as an infraction, misdemeanor, or a felony. In most cases, the court charges it as a misdemeanor. If the court charges the trespass as a misdemeanor, you can be sentenced to summary probation or six days in county jail or be charged a fine of up to $1,000. In certain exceptional circumstances like refusing to leave a facility like a battered women's shelter, the court can jail you for up to a year.
If the court charges the trespass as an infraction, you will be fined $75 if you’re a first-time offender. You will be fined $250 if you’re a second-time offender. The court charges the violation as a felony when you make a credible threat to injure another person or cause the person to fear for their safety. You enter the property within thirty days of making the threat to carry it out. Aggravated trespass is a wobbler, and the court can charge it as a felony or misdemeanor depending on your criminal history and the circumstances of the offense.
Defenses You Can Present Against Trespass Charges
Fortunately, it’s possible to present several defenses against trespass charges. Some of these defenses include:
You Had A Right To Be In The Property
It's impossible to be charged with the offense if you have a legal right to be on the property. For example, you can have a right to be on someone else's property if you’re participating in lawful union or labor activity.
You Had Consent To Be On The Property
You can defend yourself against the charge by arguing the property owner gave your consent to be on the property. But you can’t use the defense if the property owner asks you to leave their property.
Arson, California Penal Code 451
According to California Penal Code 451, it’s a crime to willfully set fire to any forest land, structure, or property. You can be guilty of the offense if you set fire to or burn all or part of something. The size of the part that was destroyed doesn’t matter.
The prosecutor must prove some aspects of the crime to find you guilty. First, they must prove that you willfully and maliciously set the structure, property, or forest land on fire. According to the law committing arson “willfully” means you purposely or willingly started the fire. You act maliciously when you know your actions will annoy, injure or defraud somebody else.
You aren’t guilty of arson if you accidentally start a fire while stroking a fire and a spark ignites a nearby gas tank. However, you can be guilty of arson if you recklessly start a fire to burn property, forest land, or structure.
According to California law, a structure is any power plant, bridge, tunnel, building, commercial or public tent. Forest land is any woods, cut-over land, brush-covered land, grassland, or forest. Property under Penal Code 451 means other lands other than forest land or personal property like clothing and even trash. Arson doesn’t include burning your personal property unless you burned your property to defraud or someone was injured in the building.
Defenses Against Arson Charges
You can present some defenses against the charge of arson. Some of these defenses include:
You Didn’t Start The Fire Willfully
You can only be guilty of arson if you willfully started the fire. You can defend yourself by arguing you started the fire accidentally.
The Fire Was Started By Something Else And Not Through Your Action
You can show the fire was started by something else and not through your action. For example, you can argue the fire was started by faulty heating equipment, the weather or climatic conditions like lightning or old wiring.
You Didn’t Intend To Defraud
You can argue you had no intention of defrauding anybody. Remember, you can be charged with arson if your intent of starting a fire is to defraud. On the other hand, you can argue the fire was through no fault of your own. Remember, you can’t use this defense if you intentionally set fire to your home to collect insurance money. If you do so, you will be guilty of arson.
Penalties For Arson In California
Arson is charged as a felony in California. The penalty for this crime depends on whether anybody was injured in the fire and the type of property burned. The court can sentence you to sixteen months, two years, or three years in jail if found guilty for personal property arson. If you are guilty of structure or forest land arson, the court can sentence you to two, four, or six years in state prison.
The court can sentence you to three, five, or eight years in state prison if you burn an inhabited structure or property. If you cause great bodily harm, the court can sentence you to five, seven, or nine years in state prison. Arson is never charged as a misdemeanor or a wobbler. It's always charged as a felony.
Auto-Burglary, California Penal Code 459
Under California Penal Code 459, auto- burglary is a crime. When you enter a locked car or its trunk to steal the vehicle or any property within the car or commit any felony inside, you are guilty of auto burglary. The court can charge the offense as either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances.
According to California law, you aren’t guilty of auto -burglary if you break into an automobile without the intent to steal the car or the property inside. So, for example, if you break into a vehicle to shield yourself from a torrent or cold, you aren’t guilty of burglary.
To find you guilty of the offense, the prosecution must prove that the car’s door and the trunk were locked, and you must have somehow tampered with the vehicle’s locking mechanism. The prosecution must also prove you intended to commit the crime. They must prove you intended to steal the vehicle, steal something inside the vehicle or kidnap a child or person locked inside the vehicle.
According to the law, you are guilty of car burglary if any part of your body enters the vehicle or if an object you control enters the vehicle. For example, this means you’re guilty of the offense if you use a hook or reach through the window to pick a purse inside the vehicle.
Remember, you don’t have to steal anything to be convicted of auto burglary. The court can find you guilty of the offense if the prosecution can prove you intended to commit the crime.
Penalties For Auto Burglary
In California, auto burglary is a wobbler, which can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor. The charge will depend on your criminal history and the circumstances surrounding the crime.
If the court charges the offense as a misdemeanor, you can be sentenced to one year in county jail. If the court charges the offense as a felony, you can be sentenced to sixteen months, two years, or three years in prison.
If you break into an inhabited trailer coach in California, the offense is always charged as a felony or first-degree burglary. If found guilty, the court can sentence you to two, four, or six years in state prison.
Defenses You Can Present Against Auto-Burglary Charges
You can present several defenses depending on the circumstances of the offense. Some of these defenses include:
The Car Wasn’t Locked When You Gained Access
You can state that the vehicle wasn’t locked when you gained entrance. The defense is critical since the car’s doors have to be locked for you to be guilty of the offense.
You Didn’t Have The Intention To Commit The Crime
You can argue that you didn’t intend to commit any felony when you entered the vehicle. As earlier stated, you can say that you got into the car to protect yourself from the elements like cold or rain.
You can state that the prosecution doesn’t have sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt you committed the offense. If the evidence is circumstantial, you can argue that it doesn’t meet the threshold for the legal definition of auto-burglary.
Robbery, California Penal Code 211
According to California Penal Code 211, robbery is the act of feloniously taking another person’s property from them or their immediate presence. The action has to be against their will and by the use of force or fear. Robbery in California is always charged as a felony.
The prosecution has to prove some elements of the offense to find you guilty. For example, they have to prove you took a property that didn’t belong to you from its owner or their immediate presence. They also have to prove you used fear to deprive them of their property permanently or for a long time.
According to Penal Code 211, taking property means you gain possession of the property and move it, even if it's for a short distance. In addition, you can be charged with the offense if you take something that another person has control over or the right to control it without their consent. For example, if you take property from a drug store by force, you can be charged with robbery even if the drug store attendant is an employee because they have constructive possession of the drugs accordingly.
You can only be charged with robbery if you take the property directly from a person or in their immediate vicinity or presence. For the charge to stick, you must also have taken the property against the owner’s will, and they didn’t give you consent to take the property. For example, if you threaten a person with a knife or another weapon and surrender their wallet, you have committed robbery because you have taken their property without their consent.
Another element of the crime is the use of force or fear. The law distinguishes robbery from theft in that you have to use fear or force to be charged with the former offense. According to Penal Code 211, force means physical force. According to Penal Code 212, fear implies the victim is afraid of injury either to themselves, a family member, the victim’s property, or anyone else present during the robbery.
You can be charged with robbery if you drug the victim and take their property. But a pickpocket isn’t guilty of robbery. They are guilty of theft.
Penalties For Robbery
The penalties for robbery depend on whether it’s a first-degree or second-degree robbery.
Penalties For First Degree Robbery
You will be charged with first-degree robbery if the victim is a streetcar, trackless trolley, bus or taxi, or similar transportation for hire modes passenger or driver. In addition, if you rob an inhabited house, trailer, or house, or when a person immediately uses the ATM, you will be charged with first-degree robbery.
The penalties for the first-degree robbery include formal probation, a three, four, or six-year sentencing to state prison, or a fine of up to $10,000 or both.
Second Degree Robbery
A second-degree robbery is any robbery that doesn’t meet the definition of a first-degree robbery. The penalties for second-degree robbery include felony probation, two, three, and five years in state prison, and a maximum fine of $10,000 or both.
Defenses You Can Present Against Robbery Charges
You can use various defenses against robbery charges. Some of these defenses include:
You Didn’t Use Force
You can argue you didn’t use force or fear to take possession of the property. However, for the charge of robbery to stick, the prosecutor must prove you used fear or force to take possession of the property.
You Believed You Had A Right To The Property
You can state you took the property in an honest belief you had a right to the property. The defense applies even if your belief in the right of the property is unreasonable or mistaken. However, you cannot use the defense if you take the property to settle a debt.
What The Prosecution Has To Prove To Find You Guilty Of Property Crimes
In property crimes, the prosecutor has to prove that you fulfilled the elements of the crime. For example, they have to prove you willfully set the property on fire in case of arson. In the case of vandalism, the prosecution has to prove you maliciously destroyed or defaced property that you don’t own or you co-own. Finally, in the case of robbery, the prosecution has to prove that you used fear and force to deprive the victim of their property either permanently or for a long time.
Call A Defense Lawyer Near Me
Facing property crimes charges is a traumatizing experience that can have detrimental effects on your life. You can lose business, suffer social stigma or serve time in jail or state prison. You can also suffer financially due to hefty fines. If you or your loved one is facing property crime charges, you need to hire a lawyer who has an intricate understanding of the California justice system. At Riverside Criminal Defense Law Firm, we have a wealth of experience representing clients who face similar charges. Do not hesitate to contact us at 951-946-6366 to book an appointment.