Identity Theft is becoming an increasingly common occurrence across America, as a result state legislatures have begun cracking down on the crime of Identity Theft and pursue it more vigorously than many other crimes. This is especially true in California.
If you have been accused of Identity Theft in California, it is imperative that you contact a skilled attorney immediately, the consequences of a conviction for Identity Theft can be severe. The attorneys at Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer have extensive experience and knowledge in criminal law as a result of decades of exclusively representing individuals of criminal conduct. Having competent representation early in the process increases the accused’s chances of obtaining a favorable outcome to their case.
In the event that you are the victim of identity theft, there are two ways the person who stole your identity can be punished. First, you have the option of suing the Defendant (assuming you know who they are) in Civil Court for a “tort.” The second option involves the criminal justice system. The District Attorney will review the information and determine whether or not they will charge the Defendant with Identity Theft. Identity Theft occurs when one person uses the “personal identifying information” (“PII”) of another person for the purpose of obtaining something of value with the consent of the Victim.
While there are an infinite number of ways for an individual to commit Identity Theft, the following is a list of common types of Identity Theft:
- The Defendant uses the Victim’s social security number (“SSN”) for the purpose of collecting welfare;
- The Defendant stole his neighbor’s driver’s license and used it to get into a bar;
- The Defendant sold the Victim’s SSN;
- The Defendant used the Victim’s PII to open various bank accounts;
- The Defendant used the Victim’s PII to obtain a home loan;
- The Defendant signed the Victim’s name on a check;
- The Defendant used the Victim’s PII to purchase item’s online;
- The Defendant used the Victim’s PII to avoid the consequences of his criminal conduct;
- The Defendant used the Vitim’s e-mail account for any purpose.
What Is Identity Theft?
California Penal Code §530.5 defines the crime of Identity Theft. There are four (4) basic types of Identity Theft:
- Obtaining the Victim’s PII for an illegal purpose without the Victim’s consent;
- Attempting to obtain the Victim’s PII for an illegal purpose without the Victim’s consent;
- Selling the Victim’s PII for an illegal purpose without the Victim’s consent; AND
- Transferring the Victim’s PII for an illegal purpose without the Victim’s consent
It should be noted that an “illegal purpose” does not require criminal conduct, it encompasses anything that would form the basis of liability in Civil Court as well. For example using the Victim’s stolen credit card information, the Defendant purchases a full-page ad slandering a minority, and placing the Victim’s name on the ad. This would be sufficient to maintain a conviction for Identity Theft against the Defendant.
The most common types of “illegal purposes” include the purposes of obtaining service, goods, services, property, or money.
In order to be convicted of Identity Theft, the Prosecution must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The Defendant acted “willfully”;
- The Defendant obtained the Victim’s PII;
- The Defendant intended to use the property for an illegal purpose; AND
- The Victim did not consent to the Defendant’s acts.
These elements can be proven through the four(4) general ways an individual can commit Identity Theft above. The Prosecution must prove every element beyond a reasonable doubt. As such, it is imperative to understand each element. The attorneys at Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer have decades of combined experience representing clients accused of all sorts of crimes; including Identity Theft. While it is generally a good idea to attempt to simply disprove one, or more, elements of the Prosecution’s case, a skilled attorney will go beyond the bare minimum and raise arguments designed to convince the jury that you didn’t commit the crime[i]. Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer never does the bare minimum for their clients; each client is treated like they are our only client. Having Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer on your side will provide substantial benefits to the outcome of your case. The remainder of this article will focus on: (1) the elements of Identity Theft, (2) the consequences you may face if you are convicted of Identity Theft; and (3) what Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer can do to help you if you are accused of Identify Theft.
What Does “Willfully” Mean?
Much like many of the other cases described on this website, the crime of Identity Theft is known as a “general intent” crime, as opposed to a “specific intent” crime. In the most simple sense, a “specific intent” crime requires that the Defendant intend a specific result from their conduct. In contrast, a “general intent” crime simply requires that the Defendant intended to do the act, which resulted in the crime.
The first element the Prosecution must prove, is that the Defendant willfully obtained the Victim’s PII. Since this is a general intent crime, the Defendant will be found to have acted willfully if they intended to perform the act, which resulted in the Defendant obtaining the Victim’s PII.
In order to prove that the Defendant acted willfully, the Prosecution must show that the Defendant did an act, and the nature of that act is such that it would be a probable and natural result of that act that the Defendant would come into possession of the Victim’s PII.
On a Saturday evening, Dan is bar hopping in downtown Los Angeles. While walking, Dan saw a wallet that had clearly been dropped on the ground. Thanking his lucky stars, Dan opened the wallet and took out all of the contents. Dan will be found to have satisfied this element of Identity Theft because Dan did an act that would probably and naturally result in Dan obtaining the Victim’s PII; opening a wallet that did not belong to him.
Personal Identifying Information
The crime of Identity Theft requires that the Defendant acted willfully, as discussed above, and that the result of the willful act was that the Defendant obtained the Victim’s PII. Naturally then, the Prosecution must prove that the Defendant obtained the Victim’s PII. California Courts have held that “personal identifying information” is any information that would allow the Defendant to convince any other entity that they are actually the Victim for the purpose of obtaining something of value. Examples of things of value include welfare, goods, and services.
I Have Been Convicted Of Identity Theft, What Penalties Might I Face?
In California, the Prosecution has the option of bring a criminal charge of Identity Theft as either a misdemeanor or a felony. This determination will be made based on all the information available to the District Attorney. Facts that the District Attorney may consider in determining whether or not to bring the charges against you as a felony or misdemeanor includes: (1) your criminal history, (2) your age, (3) the identity of the Victim, (4) the harm the identity theft caused the Victim; and (5) the moral culpability associated with your conduct. The penalties associated with a conviction for Identity Theft vary depending on whether or not you are convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor.
If you are convicted of misdemeanor Identity Theft, you will face incarceration in county jail for a period of up to one (1) year and/or a fine of one-thousand ($1,000) dollars.
If you are convicted of felony Identity Theft, you will face incarceration for a period ranging from sixteen (16), to two (2) or three (3) years in California State Prison and/or a fine of up to ten-thousand ($10,000) dollars.
I Have Been Accused Of Identity Theft, How Can Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer Help Me?
In California, Identity Theft will be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The District Attorney will make this decision based on the facts surrounding your case. It is important that you contact a skilled attorney the moment you believe you are being investigated for Identity Theft, or the moment you have been arrested for Identity Theft. Getting a skilled attorney from Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer early in the process will significantly increase your chances of obtaining a favorable outcome to your case. Contacting LACL early immediately will allow you to provide your attorney with an accurate and detailed description of the events leading up to the accusations against them. In turn, your attorney will be able to utilize that accurate information to build a strong theory of defense. By utilizing LACL’s substantial experience, you will have the best chance of convincing the District Attorney to dismiss or reduce the charges against you. In the event that the District Attorney does not dismiss or reduce the charges against you, your LACL attorney will utilize their theory of defense, which they have had ample time to perfect, to persuade the jury that the Prosecution has not proven their case. There are many defenses your LACL attorney can raise, which include:
- The Defendant’s purpose for using the Victim’s PII was not illegal
As mentioned above, the Defendant must have used the PII for an illegal purpose, thus if Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer shows that the Defendant did not use the Victim’s PII for an illegal purpose, the Defendant cannot be convicted.
Dan finds a wallet on the ground while bar hopping in downtown Los Angeles. Dan decided to do the right thing, and picked up the wallet to find the Victim’s home address. Dan then drove to the home address, knocked on the door, and handed it to the person who answered the door. Dan would not be guilty of Identity Theft. Dan willfully obtained the Victim’s PII, but it was not for an illegal purpose; Dan obtained that information for the purpose of returning the Victim’s property.
- The Defendant’s intentions were not fraudulent
- Wrongly accused
Identity Theft is a crime that is very susceptible to false accusations; the Victim can simply say they did not consent to the use of their PII, and the Defendant is left to show that the Victim is lying. There are a number of possible reasons someone would falsely accuse another of Identity Theft; jealousy, anger, revenge, and sometimes just as a practical joke. Frequently, an individual will claim their identity has been stolen to avoid debts they are accused of owing so they can have more time. If you have been falsely accused of Identity Theft, contact Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer immediately. LACL employs a private investigator for purposes such as this. Our skilled staff is dedicated to uncovering the truth, and assisting our clients in returning to their normal lives.
In the event that LACL is unsuccessful in your criminal trial, the trial will move to the sentencing phase. At this point, the Prosecution will make recommendations as to what they believe the sentence should be. Having skilled representation will offer you an opportunity to obtain a lesser punishment by raising facts concerning: (1) your age, (2) your criminal history, (3) facts explaining why your identity Theft wasn’t as harmful as other types, (4) your reputation in the community; and (5) the effect of a conviction on your future. Once the judge has heard all of the arguments, they will enter a sentence. Having competent counsel throughout the entire process provides you the best chance of obtaining a favorable outcome to your case. The more time LACL has to prepare and investigate the charges against you, the stronger your defense will be. As such, it is imperative that you contact Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer immediately if you have been accused of Identity Theft.
If you or a loved one has been accused of Identity Theft, contact Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer at 310-502-1314 for a FREE consultation.
i As opposed to simply “not guilty”, which implies there was not enough evidence to convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt.