In the California Penal Code, stealing or taking of another individual’s property is defined as theft under PC 484. Under PC 487, theft is instead considered as grand theft if the total value of the property taken exceeds $950.
Several varieties of crime can be classified as theft. Stealing a physical item is defined as larceny. Examples of larceny include shoplifting, burglary, and robbery. Note that in the cases of burglary and robbery, larceny charges may also be accompanied by breaking and entering or assault and battery. Additionally, embezzlement, theft by false pretense, and theft by trickery, all constitute different forms of theft and will be discussed further in this article. Any of these forms of theft can be considered grand theft if the value of the stolen items, goods, or money, is in excess of $950. Any theft that totals less than that value is considered to be petty theft.
Although usually petty theft is charged as a misdemeanor, grand theft is treated as a wobbler, which in California means that the prosecution will decide whether to charge you with either a felony or misdemeanor. If you are convicted with a misdemeanor account of grand theft, you may be sentenced to up to one year in a county prison. However, a felony conviction for grand theft has the potential to set you back up to three years of jail time, and depending on the situation, may result in a sentence in a county or state facility.
An experienced criminal lawyer, like the attorneys at Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer, will know how to formulate your defense based on the details of your specific case. Unintentional theft, dispute of ownership, or miscommunication are all possible defenses that an experienced attorney like the attorneys at Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer might apply to your case. In the remainder of this article, we will examine the legal codes that define grand theft so that you can know if you need to meet with an attorney for a consultation.
Defining Petty and Grand Theft
The California Penal Code defines theft as stealing or taking another individual’s property without them knowing or consenting. Many different forms of theft fall under this definition and some of these include but are not limited to theft by deceit, borrowing without the intent of returning, falsifying information in order to trick someone out of the property, and much more.
Penal Code 486 specifies that grand theft is any theft that exceeds the amount of $950 where the value of the property is determined by the jury. If the value of the property stolen is instead under the $950 threshold, the offense is instead considered to be petty theft. If multiple instances of theft occur where the total value exceeds $950 over a period of 12 months, you may be charged with grand theft instead of multiple accounts of petty theft. However, in this case, it is possible to plead grand theft down to petty theft if the instances of theft can be proved to be independent. Also, interestingly enough, several agricultural products have special exceptions, where values of $250 or more instead of $950 will result in a grand theft offense instead of petty theft. The jury is the ultimate decider on whether or not your offense will be considered to be grand theft or petty theft. However, if by chance the jury cannot unanimously decide on the value of the stolen property, you will be charged with petty theft instead of grand theft.
Defining Grand Larceny
Grand Larceny is where the total value of stolen items equates to over $950. To be charged with larceny, it must be proven that you physically stole an item. The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt, several distinct elements.
- It must be proven that you in fact stole items or goods that belonged to another individual.
- It must be proven that you didn’t have permission to remove the items or goods.
- It must be proven that you intended to take and keep the items or good that were stolen or that you kept the items for long enough to for the owner to miss out on a significant period of ownership of the item.
Grand larceny charges will typically take the form of shoplifting (if the value of the item(s) is high enough), firearms (if you are already a convicted felon), or vehicles (also commonly referred to as grand theft auto). You can also be charged with grand larceny for taking another person’s property (e.g. stealing packages, stealing phones, mugging), if the value of the items taken exceeds the value threshold.
While you are working with your attorney to formulate a defense for grand larceny, often the attorney will formulate a defense based on reasonable doubt of your intent. Intent is often difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt within a court of law. As an example, if you borrowed a valuable item such as a laptop, and for one reason or another failed to return the laptop, then you may be charged with grand larceny if the value of the laptop exceeds $950. However, the jury may not agree that your intent was to take and keep the laptop for yourself. If you expressed intent in returning the laptop, but for one reason or another had failed to return it, then you may be charged with a civil suit in replacing the laptop or compensating the owner for the value of the item rather than a criminal case. Every case and every situation is different so it is important to accurately communicate the details of the case to your attorney.
Defining Theft by False Pretense
Another form of grand theft is known as theft by false pretense. Establishing false pretense is somewhat difficult to define. The basic gist of the law states the following:
- You knowingly and intentionally deceived another individual.
- The purpose of your deceit was to take possession of another individual’s property.
- Your deceit played a significant part in the owner’s decision to relinquish the property to you.
- You actually were in possession of the property.
False pretense is a complicated legal affair and there are many ways to be charged with false pretense in ways that might not be straightforward. As an example, an often-overlooked form of false pretense is false pretense by omitting relevant information. If you knowingly choose to omit information that you had access to in order to convince someone to relinquish an item, you may be charged with false pretense. However, if you made a statement that you believed to be true, even if it is false, or omit information that did not think was relevant, you cannot be charged with false pretense. Intent is the key to establishing false pretense.
Here is an example of false pretense. Randy has an old car that breaks down. Randy goes to his friend Will, who is a car mechanic. Will informs Randy that because his car is old, the car is likely not worth fixing and would sell more for parts or scrap. Will then offers to take the car off his hands and scrap it for him. Randy agrees and turns over the car to Will. However, Will knows that the car is in fact easy to repair and fixes up the car and sells it online for $3000 dollars. Randy finds out and is charging Will with grand larceny by false pretense. Because Randy trusted Will and Will knowingly lied to Randy in order to make a profit, Will may be found guilty of grand larceny with sufficient evidence of his falsehood.
Because of the nature of false pretense, there are certain special evidence requirements for establishing false pretense. To be found guilty of false pretense, often times hard evidence is required, which is usually in the form of either written documents or a record of conversation. Another possible form of evidence is eyewitness accounts. However, either multiple accounts are needed, or a single eyewitness account can be used in combination with other forms of evidence. These rules are in place in order to prevent abusing this law for the sake of personal gain.
Defining Theft by Trick
Although the concept of theft by trick is similar to theft by false pretense, there are certain differences that require its own definition in the law. The key difference is that theft by false pretense involves the owner’s intent to transfer ownership to another person. In other words, the false pretense leads to a change in ownership. For theft by trick, the owner does not intend to relinquish ownership, but the item is stolen anyways.
For example, if Ryan tells Michelle that he was going to buy her car from her, takes the car, then does not pay for it, he may be guilty of grand theft by false pretense. However, if Ryan asks to borrow Michelle’s car, then drives it to another state and keeps it, then he may be guilty of grand theft by trick. In the first example, Michelle intended to give Ryan ownership of the vehicle and Ryan made a false pretense in which he would pay for the car. In the second example, Michelle only intended to let Ryan use the car temporarily, but Ryan instead kept the vehicle.
Defining Theft by Embezzlement
The word embezzlement is often associated with “white collar crime” where funds are being misappropriated by an accountant or fund manager. However, the definition embezzlement actually states that embezzlement is stealing something entrusted to you. The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt, several different elements:
- You were entrusted with either property or funds.
- You stole or misused the property or funds in a manner that was not intended by the owner.
- In taking the property or funds, you deprived the original owner of the use or significant enjoyment of the stolen goods.
As such, embezzlement is also a complicated offense because it is possible to embezzle without meaning to or without intending to steal.
As an example, Paul asks Dan if he can store his boat in Dan’s garage for the winter for a small fee. Dan agrees, but he decides that he is going to take the boat to the lake himself without asking Paul. If Paul is so inclined, he could theoretically charge Dan with embezzlement, especially if Dan somehow damages the boat while using it and deprives Paul of some of the value of the boat or significant enjoyment of his own property. Embezzlement is another tricky charge and as such, it is always better to consult with an attorney for a personalized assessment of your legal situation.
Grand Theft Penalties
Grand theft is treated as a wobbler. Within the California Penal Code, a wobbler as defined as a crime that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on how the prosecution wants to bring the case to court. There are a few exceptions to this. Up until November of 2014, theft of a firearm or vehicle was always filed and charged as grand theft regardless of the value of the goods. Proposition 47 has effectively changed this ruling to allow for these two special cases to be considered as petty theft if under the value threshold of $950. However, it should be noted that convicted felons will always be charged with grand theft if a firearm or automobile is involved.
The typical sentence for a misdemeanor charge of grand theft is up to a full year in a county facility. A felony account of grand theft typically carries a heavier sentence of up to three years in a county facility. Grand theft involving a firearm carries an even heavier potential sentencing of up to three years served in a county or state facility depending on the ruling of the court and the offender will receive a strike under the three-strike law. Grand theft involving extremely large sums of money or high values of property may involve added years to a sentence on top of the sentences listed here. Grand theft of property valued at over $65,000 the offender may receive an additional full year of jail time. For property valued over $200,000, two years of additional sentence time may be added. For property valued over $1.3M or $3.2M three or four years respectively may be added.
Two other notable exceptions for these penalties involve Penal Code 459 and Penal Code 211. Penal Code 459 is for burglary. Burglary is usually involved with either petty theft or grand theft because it involves unauthorized entry into a building or enclosure with the intent of committing petty or grand theft. As a result, burglary is its own offense separate from Penal Code 484 and is charged as a felony with a sentence of up to three years in county prison, with an additional stipulation that if the burglary is committed in a private residence, the sentence can be up to six years.
Penal Code 211 is for robbery, which depending on how it was committed, can also be associated with assault and battery. The legal definition of robbery involves the use of force or intimidation to take property from another individual. If you steal valuable items from this person, and the value of those items exceed $950, then you could also be charged with grand theft on top of robbery. Robbery is not a wobbler and like burglary, is charged as a felony. It carries a hefty minimum sentence of two years in a state facility and a maximum sentence of six years in a state facility.
Common Defenses for Grand Theft
The two most common defenses for grand theft are defenses involving a claim of right and defenses involving consent. Your typical claim of right defense involves making an argument that you as the defendant, believed you have a legitimate entitlement to the property in question. If you believed that the stolen property belonged to you, then your intent was not necessarily to steal but instead to claim what is rightfully yours.
A typical consent defense makes the argument that the original owner of the stolen property gave consent to the taking. If you borrowed an item with the owner’s consent, you are not guilty of theft unless you failed to follow the conditions of borrowing the item or failed to return the item completely. It is important to note here that if even if you returned the item, you may still be charged with theft if the owner was deprived of significant enjoyment. Therefore, returning the item is rarely ever a valid defense against grand theft.
Finding a Lawyer for Grand Theft Near Me
Grand theft can carry a hefty sentence and it is crucial that you find and contact a criminal defense attorney that will be able to consult on your case and let you know what you need to do. A good attorney will be able to use the details of your case to formulate a strong and personalized defense. If you are looking for an experienced Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer then call 310-502-1314 for a consultation.