Any criminal activity that involves property destruction or transfer, including money and automobiles, is deemed as property crime whether violence was used or not. When charged with property crimes like damaging phone, electrical and utility lines, vandalism, arson, aggravated trespass, or trespass, you will face misdemeanor or felony charges. At the Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer, we are available to defend you against these charges. With the right defense strategies, it is possible to have the charges reduced or removed.

Overview of California Property Crimes

California statutes list multiple criminal activities that fall under property crimes and whose conviction attracts potential penalties like:

  • Imprisonment
  • Restraining orders
  • Restitution
  • Community service
  • Probation

Some of the common types of property crimes include:

  1. Damaging Phone, Electrical or Utility Lines

In the present world, people depend on telephones, electrical, and utility lines to function. If these things fail to function, they can result in many emergencies that could cause injuries or fatalities. Because of this, if you maliciously damage, remove, disconnect, or injure phone, electrical and utility wires, you will be subject to criminal charges under PC 591. The statute punishes its violators severely because without telephones or electricity nowadays, people cannot communicate or link with others daily for pleasure or business.

However, before you are convicted of a PC 591 violation, there are certain elements that the prosecuting party must prove. These elements are:

  • You, as the defendant unlawfully cut, disconnected, took down, removed, or obstructed a phone, electrical, or TV wire or any device connected to the wire.
  • You unlawfully disconnected or made an unauthorized connection to a telegraph, cable TV, or any other line used to conduct electricity.
  • You engaged in the behavior maliciously

It’s worth noting that when you make an unlawful connection with any other line apart from cable telephone, telegraph, or telegraph line that is used to conduct electricity, the court will still find you guilty of violating PC 591.

Also, you will end up convicted of this crime even if you had no intent to hurt another person or commit a crime. The vital thing that the prosecution needs to prove is that your actions were willful or intentional.

On the other hand, if you didn’t intend to injure another person or engage in a wrongful act, you will be innocent because your actions were not malicious. But if the prosecutor can demonstrate that you intended to hurt another party or participate in criminal activity, you will be deemed to have acted maliciously, and the court will convict you.

Once the prosecution has proven the above elements beyond a reasonable doubt, you will be subjected to PC 591 penalties. The offense of damaging telephone, electrical, and utility lines is a wobbler, which gives the prosecution the discretion to either register a misdemeanor charge or felony against you. The decision by the prosecutor depends on the circumstances of your case, which means they will consider your motive at the time of the offense, mitigating and aggravating factors, and the damage caused during the alleged offense.

If the preferred charge against you is a misdemeanor, you will face the following consequences:

  • Misdemeanor probation
  • No more than a one-year jail sentence
  • Court fines not exceeding 1000 dollars

Felony charges, on the other hand, will attract the following consequences:

  • Formal probation
  • Court fines no more than $10,000
  • 16, 24 or 36 months in Los Angeles county jail under the realignment program

Despite these harsh penalties, if you are charged with violation of PC 591, there are high chances a criminal defense lawyer could help you contest the charges. For this to happen, multiple defenses must be used. One of the assertions your lawyer can make is claiming that although you damaged electrical, utility, and telephone wires, your actions were accidental. As stated earlier, you are innocent if your actions were not malicious or intended to hurt another individual. No matter how careless it appears, if your actions were accidental, you will walk free.

Many cases charged under PC 591 involve domestic violence. In such cases, it is easy to be falsely accused of destroying phone, utility, or electrical lines by a jealous or vengeful partner. Under such circumstances, your attorney needs to demonstrate that you didn’t commit the offense.

  1. Arson

California PC 451 outlines arson as the intentional and malicious setting on fire, burning, causing to be burned, aiding, or procuring the burning of a building, bridge, tent, property, or forest land. The offense is of a deadly nature which is why a conviction carries severe penalties, including prison incarceration and steep court fines. In most cases, arson attracts felony charges, but you can face a misdemeanor charge based on the nature of the offense.

Cases of arson are usually challenging for investigators because most of the evidence is lost in the fire. Complex chemical analysis systems are used by law enforcement to find the cause of the fire. And when this happens, that’s when it can be concluded whether the fire was intentional or accidental. If luckily there were eyewitnesses at the scene who claim to have seen a person start the fire, then it will be easy to file arson charges because there will be a suspect.

If you are arrested and charged with arson, there are certain elements that the prosecution must establish. One of the elements is that you, as the offender, burned, or set on fire forest land, building, or property. Burning, in this case, means destroying or damaging something using fire. A structure represents any building, bridge, or tent while property means clothing, vehicles, or any other personal belonging. Keep in mind that the prosecution will not convict you of burning your property unless you intend to commit insurance fraud, or a person was killed or injured in the fire.

The other element the prosecution must demonstrate is that you acted on purpose and maliciously. If the prosecutor successfully proves these elements, you will be subject to punishment under PC 451.

Based on this statute, if arson causes great bodily injuries, you will be subject to California state prison incarceration for 5, 7, or 9 years. Additionally, you will be required to register as an arsonist for a lifetime.

Where the offender burnt or set on fire an inhabited property, the consequences upon sentencing are 3, 5, or 8 years in prison. Besides, if you as the offender commits arson on forestland or any other property, you might end up spending 24, 48, or 72 months in prison and register as an arsonist.

Burning your property to commit insurance fraud will attract sixteen, twenty-four, or thirty-six months in prison. You will also be required to register as an arsonist for a lifetime and face murder charges in case someone dies because of the fire you started.

Remember that if you were attempting to commit the crime of arson but failed, the offense of attempted arson is a felony and upon sentencing, you will be incarcerated in state prison for 16, 24, or 36 months. Besides, if you have a prior arson charge or emergency personnel like firefighters sustain severe bodily injuries trying to put out the fire, you will be subject to enhanced penalties. Burning several structures or injuring several persons will also subject you to enhanced penalties.

In the event you are faced with allegations or charges of arson, the Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer is here to defend you. The penalties outlined above are life-changing, and you will need to put up all the legal defenses you can to contest them.

Your lawyer can assert that the fire was not started by arson, but instead, it was an accident. He or she could argue that you were drunk or drugged and didn’t start the fire on purpose. However, this argument might result in a conviction for reckless burning. The lawyer might also argue that these charges against you are based on false allegations.

In some incidences, the fire destroys every piece of evidence while in others, there are few or no eyewitnesses. If this applies to your case, the only evidence the prosecution has against you is circumstantial, which makes it insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed arson. Under such circumstances, your attorney could argue that the prosecution has insufficient evidence, thus getting the charges reduced or dismissed.

  1. Vandalism 

California spends millions of dollars annually to clean-up graffiti and places that have been vandalized. Property owners also undergo psychological and emotional distress when their property is vandalized. In a bid to stop the losses and suffering brought about by vandalism, California enacted Penal Code 594. The statute defines vandalism as willfully and maliciously damaging, defacing, or destroying property belonging to somebody else.

The prosecutor must establish particular aspects of the crime to earn a conviction. Aspect number one is that you, as the defendant maliciously ruined with graffiti or engraved material, damaged real or private property. Any unlawful engraving; word, streak, or figure jotted, marked, or attached to a real or private estate is graffiti. If the prosecution can prove you engaged in such an act, whether the damage or deface is permanent or not, you will end up with a conviction.

The second aspect is that the property you vandalized is possessed by another party or didn’t belong to you. If the property in question is public, the jury will assume it didn’t belong to you, and you didn’t have the authority to deface or damage it. And if you are a co-owner in the property in question, you will still be convicted for vandalizing your partner’s estate.

Again, the prosecution has to demonstrate that the amount of defacement or damage is less than $400 for a misdemeanor charge or $400 or above for a felony charge. Just like under California theft, the penalties for vandalism are based on the value of a property.

When misdemeanor charges are registered against you, upon conviction the court will impose jail time of fewer than 12 months and court fines of at most $1000. The fine will increase to 5,000 dollars if you have a prior vandalism sentence. If the value of the property is more than $400 but less than $10,000, incarceration will still be no more than a year and a fine not exceeding 10,000 dollars. The amount of court fines will go up to $50,000 if the value of damages exceeds 10,000 dollars.

If you are charged with defacing a property using graffiti, and the cost of damage is less than 250 dollars, the prosecution will charge you with a lesser offense under PC 640.4 and PC 640.6. If it is your first conviction, as per PC 640.5 and PC 640.6, the offense will be considered an infraction. The punishments for the offense include:

  • Community labor
  • A fine no more than one thousand dollars

If it is your second conviction, you will face misdemeanor charges which include:

  • Up to a half a year jail sentence
  • Court fines not exceeding $2000
  • Community service

Where it is your third time to be convicted with vandalism involving graffiti whose damage is less than $250, you will still face misdemeanor penalties, but they will be harsher than those of a second conviction. The penalties include:

  • No more than 12 months in jail
  • Court fines of a maximum three thousand dollars
  • Community services

Also, note that you will face additional charges if you commit the offense of vandalism to aid criminal gang activity. 

Fortunately, with a defense lawyer, it is possible to contest the charges and avoid the harsh penalties.

  1. Trespassing

As per California PC 602h, you will face trespassing charges if you enter another person’s land, building, or any other property without their permission. Multiple acts amount to trespassing that has been prohibited under this statute includes:

  • Entering somebody else’s property whereas a sign forbidding entry to the property is visible.
  • Destroying or damaging sign marks or fences on a person’s property
  • Accessing another person’s property with the intent to cause damages
  • Entering someone else’s property to interrupt business activities
  • Accessing somebody else’s property without permission and refusing to leave when asked to do so.

Take note that that acts like refusing screening at a courthouse or airport also amount to trespassing.

During the trial of these cases, the prosecutor must demonstrate that you acted on purpose when you entered the property, and you intended to cause actual damage to property rights or business.

Trespassing under this section can attract infraction or misdemeanor penalties. If the preferred charge is a misdemeanor and the prosecutor earns a conviction, you will be subject to misdemeanor probation, no more than six months in jail, and a one thousand dollar fine.

Under PC 602.8, trespassing is filed as an infraction, particularly if you willfully access somebody else’s property without consent and when the land has a fence or warning signs placed at intervals of not less than three posts per mile, indicating no trespassing. If you are convicted of an infraction, the penalties you will be subjected to include:

  • A court fine of $75 for a first offender
  • Two hundred and fifty dollars for a second offense on the same land

Keep in mind that if you are a third time trespassing offender on the same piece of land, you will be subject to misdemeanor penalties.

  1. Aggravated Trespassing

PC 601 is a statute that defines aggravated trespass. As per the law, it is criminal to make a credible threat to hurt somebody else, to make the person fear for his or her safety and that of the family and within thirty days you access the person’s property or place of work intending to actualize the threats.

The crime of aggravated trespass is a wobbler and the nature of your case and criminal record is what determines if the prosecution charges you with a misdemeanor or felony.

In the event of misdemeanor charges and you end up with a conviction, you will spend no more than a year in jail and a court fine of $2,000. But if you are convicted of a felony charge, you will serve a jail sentence of sixteen, twenty-four or thirty-six months. The judge could also impose felony probation in place of spending time in jail.

It’s worth understanding whether you are charged with trespassing or aggravated trespassing, you can contest the charges, but you will need an experienced defense lawyer like the Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer. Your lawyer could argue that you had consent from the owner to occupy the property. The attorney could even assert that you didn’t interfere with the ongoing activities on the property and that the property was not fenced nor was there a sign warning against trespassing.

Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

When facing accusations or charges of a property crime, we invite you to reach out to the Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer at 310-502-1314. Our criminal defense lawyers will offer a zero obligation and confidential consultation to discuss your case and devise defense strategies to fight the charges.