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Theft Crime Definitions in California & Possible Legal Defenses

Theft crimes in California generally defined as the intentional taking of a person’s property without any direct permission, or without the intention of ever returning it. Virtually any of notable value can be stolen under these definitions, including services. For example, hiring a gardener to trim a tree but never surrendering payment for services rendered is a form of theft.

Three of the most common theft crimes in California are:

  • Petty theft: The crime of petty theft – often recorded as or called shoplifting by authorities – involves the theft of an item of services of relatively low value, as the name suggests. Usually, $950 is the limit on petty theft charges. If the property is valued at $950.01, then the charge might be grand theft instead. Penalties for petty theft can include a fine up to $1,000 plus the cost of the stolen item, restitutions for wrongdoing, and a 6-month prison term. For petty theft of property valued below $50, the prosecutor can choose to charge the crime as a misdemeanor or an infraction, which would result in just a fine of $250 or less.
  • Grand theft: As the name suggests, grand theft is the thievery of an item with a significant dollar value or benefit to the owner. Money, labor, or property stolen with a value of $950 or greater will automatically constitute grand theft in California. This limit is dropped to just $250 if the stolen property are farm products, such as domestic fowl or crops. Grand theft penalties will be much more severe than petty theft, such as thousands of dollars in fines or years of imprisonment. Stolen property valued between $400.01 and $899.99 can be charged as petty or grand theft, depending on the prosecutor’s discretion.
  • Embezzlement: The fraudulent appropriation of property by a person to whom it has been entrusted is known as the theft crime of embezzlement. This criminal act is sometimes labeled as a “white collar crime” since it often occurs when a business professional steals money from a company that employs them, or one that they own. Another example of embezzlement is a cashier taking money from the cash register; he or she is entrusted to watch over that money, so the crime is technically embezzlement, but it could be charged as petty theft. Every person found guilty of embezzlement and convicted can be penalized based on the amount of money or property embezzled.

It is also worth noting that United States citizens convicted of any crime, including petty theft, will not be allowed to travel to Canada. Inversely, non-U.S. citizens convicted of a form of theft, which is considered a “crime of moral turpitude,” may be deported or removed from the country as part of the conviction sentencing.

Defenses Against Theft Charges in California

In order to prove theft and secure a conviction under California law, the prosecutor working the case has to establish that the intent of the defendant. If there is not enough evidence to suggest that the defendant intended to permanently deprive the owner of the property in question, then the entire case against that defendant might come undone. Simply taking something without permission is not necessarily theft.

Imagine the scenario in which two friendly neighbors, Jan and Casey, routinely borrow one another’s lawn tools. While Jan is out of town, Casey borrows Jan’s lawnmower without explicit permission to do so. Casey forgets to return it due to a busy schedule. Jan returns home, sees the lawnmower is missing, and later discovers it in Casey’s backyard. If Jan tried to press charges, then Casey could likely use the defense of never having the intention of keeping the lawnmower forever.

Another common defense to various theft charges is mistaken identity. It is feasible that any eyewitness statement could be entirely incorrect, or any footage of the event could be too unreliable to accept as admissible evidence.

Uphold Your Presumption of Innocence

As always, a defendant in California is innocent until proven otherwise beyond a reasonable doubt in the court of law. The prosecution has to overcome this challenge to secure a conviction. But it is best not to leave things up to chance.

If you have been accused of theft in California, call toll free 888.865.0741 to connect with the Law Office of Ivan O.B. Morse. Our Dublin theft crimes defense attorney, Mr. Ivan Morse, can put decades of criminal defense experience and years as an Oakland police officer to good use for your case, fighting for your rights with insight that few other criminal attorneys can claim. Schedule your free consultation with our firm today to begin working on your defense.

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