Today, many Californians charged with theft crimes like grand theft are not hardcore criminals. Instead, they are ordinary individuals who make mistakes or are falsely accused of the offense. Nevertheless, theft offenses are among the most prevalent property crimes in the state. Moreover, because they are crimes of convenience, they may indicate a bigger problem in society.
Although you might not see a theft involving property worth $950 or more as a serious one, a conviction can have serious consequences because it limits your employment opportunities as employers trust you less. Further, the offense is punishable by hefty fines and jail time. Therefore, if you’re faced with these charges, you need legal representation.
At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we have a successful record and experience defending against theft offenses. Our attorneys know the right defense strategies to apply in your case based on the circumstances to obtain a favorable outcome. Theft accusations shouldn’t deny you job and college admission opportunities, which is why we can protect your rights against the charges.
General View of Grand Theft
Theft is defined as the unlawful taking of another individual’s item without their permission. As per California PEN 487, when you obtain another person’s property illegally or use it without their consent when the property value is $950 or higher, you commit grand theft. When the property’s value falls below $950, the crime becomes petty theft, but in some situations where you steal property worth no more than $950, you will still face PC 487 violation charges. These exceptions include:
- If the item acquired illegally is an automobile
- At the time of the crime, you utilized a weapon or firearm, whether the casualty sustained bodily harm or not.
- The theft item is of a living being like a cow.
- You obtained the property directly from the rightful owner.
In these situations highlighted above, you will face grand theft charges and penalties notwithstanding the value of the item you are alleged to have acquired unlawfully and without permission from the owner. When you have a previous criminal record for a sex crime that requires sex offender registration, even if the item you have stolen has a value of no more than $950, you will still face grand theft.
Furthermore, when you gradually and consciously obtain illegally small items or money from your workplace and the total value of the items acquired unlawfully without the employer’s consent amount to $950 or above within the previous twelve months, you will face PEN 487 violation charges.
It’s easy to assume that because you stole an item valued at $950 or more as a group, the property’s value will be shared equally among the gang members. However, this is not true because, under PC 487, the law considers the property’s value taken from one individual and not the number of people who took it, meaning you will face grand theft charges even if you are a group.
Whatever circumstances result in a grand theft conviction, you will face harsh long-term consequences, so you must find legal counsel from a criminal attorney earliest possible. Your legal representative will examine the facts of the case to build evidence to be used to contest the charges.
Types of Grand Theft
As indicated above, there are multiple ways of engaging in grand theft. Each of these forms of theft involves unique elements which the prosecution must prove to find you guilty. The common ways grand theft can occur are:
Grand Theft Using False Pretense
When you lie or deceive another person and persuade them into handing over the ownership of an item of value, grand theft through pretense happens. California PEN 532 prohibits persons from illegally acquiring another person’s property, money, or services deliberately and on purpose through fraudulent representation. Further, if you make false promises and allow another person to work for you without pay is considered theft by pretenses if the labor value is $950 or above. The prosecuting attorney should demonstrate the following untruthful pretense elements to confirm you are guilty of the offense:
- You willfully and deliberately deceived someone by making untruthful pretenses — For purposes of this element, the prosecutor should demonstrate that you had knowledge the document or information you shared with the item owner was inaccurate. Also, untruthful pretenses could mean saying something recklessly without being aware or a reason to believe the information you are sharing is correct. The prosecutor will find you guilty if they prove you refused to share critical data you were obliged to share under the circumstances.
- You intended to persuade the owner to transfer the ownership of the property — The prosecuting attorney must show you had plans to persuade the owner to hand it over, and you will be convicted if it’s clear your false pretense actions were geared towards deceiving to obtain property.
- The prosecuting attorney must demonstrate that you made an untruthful pretense by writing and signing a false document. Also, they can rely on at least two witnesses or one witness and additional evidence to demonstrate you made an untruthful token.
- When the owner handed over its ownership rights, they relied on the false information you had provided
Untruthful pretense is not always apparent under California law. It means to be convicted of grand theft; the untruthful pretensions must be evaluated thoroughly and understood. That way, even if you engaged in the crime under multiple circumstances, the prosecutor won’t need to demonstrate every single one of them in court. Instead, they will only show your untrue pretense actions are what qualifies as a PC 487 violation.
Grand Theft Through Larceny
Grand theft can also happen through larceny, where you physically relocate or carry another individual’s property without consent and with plans to steal. To be convicted of the crime, the property must be visible, and the prosecuting team must demonstrate the following:
- You carried or moved someone else’s property from its initial position and held it for a considerable duration independent of the distance moved.
- You kept the item enough to deny the rightful owner enjoyment or its value
- The property’s value was over nine hundred and fifty dollars, or the item was a vehicle or firearm
- You gained possession of the property without the owner’s permission
Even a minor theft offense like shoplifting that might not seem to carry severe penalties might be charged as grand theft if the item you are accused of shoplifting is valued at more than $950.
Grand Theft Through Trick
Grand theft through trick occurs when you deceive someone else or use fraud to acquire ownership rights on their property, money, or service. The court will convict you for a PC 487 violation through tricks if the prosecuting attorney can prove these elements:
- You acquired another individual’s property, fully aware that it didn’t belong to you.
- You acquired the property, labor, or cash through deceit
- You kept the property enough to deny the owner its value or enjoyment
- You obtained the item temporarily or in perpetuity
- The owner didn’t plan on turning over its ownership to you
The elements of grand theft through trick are like those of theft through untruthful pretense. With grand theft through deception, the only difference is that the item owner turnovers its ownership rights without knowing that you are commissioning theft. On the other hand, in grand theft using false pretense, the item owner hands over both possession and ownership rights.
Grand Theft Through Embezzlement
According to PC 503, embezzlement is the unlawful use of property that has been entrusted to you by the owner. Depending on the amount you steal, you could face both embezzlement and grand theft through embezzlement at the same time if the item, service, or money stolen is valued at at least $950. The key elements the prosecuting team must prove under this form of grand theft are:
- You planned on depriving the owner of the item temporarily or in perpetuity
- The property had been entrusted to you by the owner
- You broke the trust by fraudulently using the property for selfish reasons
- The property value is more than $950
- The owner placed you in a position of great trust in the property.
Even if you planned on returning the money or property later, you could still be guilty of embezzlement. You must work closely with a competent criminal defense attorney if you are falsely or mistakenly accused of PC 487 violation to avoid the detrimental penalties associated with a conviction.
Grand Theft Penalties
Grand theft is a wobbler offense that attracts jail time and court fines. Based on the facts surrounding your case and criminal record, the prosecutor has the discretion to file misdemeanor or felony charges. A misdemeanor PC 487 violation attracts jail incarceration not exceeding twelve months and a court fine of one thousand dollars. Further, the court might order you to compensate the owner an amount equal to the lost property, labor, or money value.
When the offense becomes a felony, a conviction might see you spend at most thirty-six months in prison and court fines of no more than $10,000. The court might also order you to pay victim restitution. Sometimes the judge might sentence you to probation instead of spending time in jail. However, formal probation is accompanied by multiple requirements like maintaining employment, keeping off criminal activities, and regularly checking in with your parole officer.
It’s worth noting that a misdemeanor offense for grand theft firearms doesn’t exist. Instead, the crime is a direct felony, and upon conviction, you will face sixteen, twenty-four, or thirty-six months in prison. Also, you will add a strike to your record under the Three Strikes Rule.
When it’s a felony, grand theft might attract multiple sentence enhancements based on the sum of money or value of the stolen property. A sentence enhancement is an additional and consecutive jail or prison time attached to a conviction based on the nature of the case. Mostly, you face an enhancement when the property value is exceptionally high. Highlighted here are the penalty enhancements for felony grand theft involving significant-high value property:
- An extra twelve months of jail custody if the money or value of the property is over $65,000
- An additional twenty-four months of jail incarceration if the item’s value is at least $200,000
- An extra thirty-six months of state prison incarceration of the property value is over $1.3 million.
- An additional four years in prison if the value exceeds $3.2 million
Before the court decides to enhance your sentence, they must estimate the total cost of the property or items taken under a specific scheme. If the court convicts you of multiple acts of theft, you may obtain sentences for every separate action increasing the time you spend behind bars.
Individuals with multiple counts of PC 487 violation are deemed as repeat offenders. If you belong to this class of individuals, primarily if you engaged in the theft crime against an organization or person, your punishment will be increased above PC 487 provisions. Therefore, you should consider calling an attorney to help you prevent penalty increments or a conviction for the current crime.
Common Legal Defenses for Grand Theft Charges
There is no guarantee that your grand theft charges under PC 487 will result in a conviction, meaning you have a chance to contest the charges. An attorney can evaluate your case and, based on the circumstances, develop robust defense strategies that will increase the possibility of a favorable outcome. The common defense strategies you can mount in your case are:
You Didn’t Intend to Steal
For the prosecutor to prove a grand theft charge against you, they must demonstrate before the judge and jury that you had plans or intentions to take property away from its rightful owner illegally and without consent. Therefore, when you can prove that you had no plans to steal, but you committed a reasonable mistake, or you were absent-minded when you acquired somebody’s property without consent, then you won’t be guilty of this offense.
You Were Reasonably Convinced the Property Belonged to You
If you honestly but mistakenly believed that the property belonged to you, or if in real sense you claim to be the rightful owner of the grand theft property, then you are innocent. You cannot face a theft offense charge for taking property that you own. Therefore, to defend against these charges, you can demonstrate that the property you are alleged to have stolen is yours.
A claim of the right of property ownership can be used to defend against these charges. Still, it’s only applicable if you begin by accepting that you obtained the item and reasonably believe it is rightful yours. However, if you started by concealing that you acquired the item or proven that the property you acquired is illegal, the assertion won’t hold in court.
You Had Permission From The Owner
You would be innocent of these charges if the owner permitted you to have the property. However, the fashion you utilized the property must align with the agreement made when taking possession or using the property. So, if the property usage is stipulated, but you used it outside of the contract, you cannot use this defense. Also, if you keep the property longer than agreed upon, this defense won’t work in your favor.
The Property’s Value Was Less Than $950
Sometimes, victims of grand theft lie about the stolen property’s value. If this happens and the victim indicates the stolen property’s value was $950 or higher, the officer will capture this information in their report and submit the same file to the prosecutor to file charges. The prosecutor will file grand theft charges if they rely on the amount provided.
However, if your criminal attorney further investigates the matter and, after thorough valuation, demonstrates to the court the property value is less than $950, it will be apparent that they filed the wrong charges. Therefore, the case will be thrown out, and new charges of a lesser offense filed.
You Were Entrapped
It’s possible to argue entrapment in these cases if you believe someone else induced you into committing the crime. However, your attorney must show that you lacked intent to commit the offense in the first place, and you only acted on the entrapment. Although this defense strategy won’t have the case dismissed, it enhances the chances of a reduced sentence.
You Were Under Duress
You can be forced through threats, force, or blackmail to commit a grand theft offense. However, if you have evidence to show that the person who caused you to commit the crime had authority or the ability to act on the threats, the court will not find you liable for the crime.
You Were Falsely Accused
As mentioned earlier, not everyone convicted of grand theft is guilty. For example, you can be untruthfully accused of PC 487 violation when a business deal goes south. The allegations could also stem from a person seeking revenge. Besides, you could be framed by the natural person who committed the theft or embezzlement or a case of mistaken identity where the witness or the victim is convinced you are the guilty party.
However, proving false allegations isn’t easy because you must present hidden facts that show you didn’t commit the crime. Therefore, to use this defense, you need a defense attorney in your corner to support the argument with facts.
Several offenses are related to, the same as, charged with, alongside, or in place of grand theft. These are:
Misappropriation of Public Funds
According to PEN 424, it is illegal to wrongly use the money entrusted to you by the public or give the funds to another person without authorization. You will face the charges if you are a government employee trusted with public money. If the amount you are alleged to have misappropriated is $950 or more, you will face charges for both public funds misappropriation and grand theft. A conviction for the offense will result in as much as four years in prison.
PEN 488 is the statute that outlines petty theft. As per this section, it is illegal to take something that isn’t yours, using force or threats. You will be guilty of this offense where the property taken is worth no more than $950. Compared to grand theft, petty theft carries fewer consequences. If the worth of the property you are accused of stealing is in contention, you can request to be charged with petty and not grand theft.
Petty theft is a misdemeanor offense that carries as much as one thousand dollars in court fines and no more than six months of jail custody.
PEN 211 Robbery
According to PC 211, robbery happens when you obtain somebody else’s property against their will through fear or intimidation. You might face both grand theft and robbery charges if the worth of the property you received through robbery is more than $950. Upon conviction, robbery can result in a state prison incarceration for between twenty-four to seventy-two months.
Additionally, robbery is a strike under the Three Strikes rule. Like other theft offenses, you must work closely with a criminal attorney to have the charges reduced to a grand theft offense that attracts lesser consequences and doesn’t add a strike on your criminal record.
PEN 459 Burglary
Burglary is defined as per PC 459 as entering someone else’s establishment or building with plans to engage in theft. If the establishment you were gaining access to is a vehicle, you may also face grand theft auto charges. You could face grand theft charges when charged with burglary if you entered a building and stole property worth over $950.
Whether the theft was a success or not, you will face burglary charges. The offense is a felony, and when convicted, you will face no more than 36 months in jail and as much as 72 months if the building you entered is inhabited.
Find an Experienced Riverside Criminal Attorney Near Me
You are likely to panic when charged with grand theft because a conviction for the offense can have devastating consequences in your professional and social life. Luckily, a charge for this offense doesn’t always mean you’re guilty because, with the help of a profound attorney, you can contest the charges. Contact Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm today at 951-946-6366 to discuss your case with one of our attorneys.