If you have been charged with petty theft, you may be wondering what defense you may use to avoid tarnishing your reputation. Having a record of a criminal offense and conviction can potentially hurt your chances of getting a job, receiving benefits from the government, or getting your professional license, and have you face jail time. That’s why it is important for you to understand California laws covering theft crimes, and explore your legal options to get charges dismissed, reduce penalties, and arrive at the best possible outcome.
Petty Theft Crimes
Under California’s Penal Code 484, unlawful possession or claim of another’s property is a crime. A theft crime is considered “petty theft” if the stolen good is valued at $950 or less, or “grand theft” if it is worth more than that.
Criminal cases of theft may arise from different charges such as theft by larceny, trick, embezzlement, fraud, or false pretenses. You’ll likely face larceny if you physically took jewellery, equipment, furniture, to name a few, that is owned by another party, while a charge of theft by trick is imposed if deceit was involved. On the other hand, an offender can face an embezzlement conviction if he fraudulently takes a property entrusted to him. Finally, theft by false pretenses occurs when the thief uses misinformation to persuade the possessor to give up the property.
In some instances, the defendant is innocent and unfortunately misidentified by the witness presented by the prosecuting team. To avoid such scenarios, the courtroom must evaluate all angles of the case based on the following questions: Did the defendant possess another person’s property? Was it taken without consent from the owner? Was there an intent to take it permanently or deprive its possessor (regardless if it will benefit the thief)? Was it moved and kept by the accused party for a period of time?
prosecutor and your legal representation will need to demonstrate in court evidence regarding ownership matters on the item, establish the intent of the accused party, review how the property was taken, and estimate its cost. The fair market value is generally used to assess property value as this is the highest price the item would have sold for in the market at the time the crime was committed.
Defenses Against Theft Accusations
Under the U.S. Law, you have the right to be defended by a California theft crime attorney. Depending on the circumstances of your case, your criminal defense attorney can formulate a strategy based on any of the questions raised above. Below are the most common defenses used:
- Intent. Criminal charges can get dismissed if the defense attorney can show that there was no intent to permanently take possession of the property, and there were plans to return it. For this to work, the stolen asset must be returned within a reasonable amount of time as decided by your judge or the jury. Furthermore, if your lawyer can show that you acted with the consent of the owner, or you just borrowed the property, your charges will likely be dropped.
- Property Movement. If your legal defense can show that the property has not been moved or carried away, then the prosecution cannot claim that the theft crime has been completed. A petty theft charge can only be given if there is evidence that the property is severed from the possessor and in complete possession of the defendant.
- The Number of Items Stolen. If the offense involves multiple properties, it is possible to reduce the number of criminal case charges you’ll face into one if you and your criminal attorney can show that the properties belong to one victim, taken as part of a single plan and that the combined worth of these assets are below the maximum set by California law.
- Claim of Right. Another strategy used by a defense law firm is to prove that the accused only took the item because of a mistaken belief that he had the right to do so.
How Criminal Defense Lawyers Can Help
A crime of theft is punishable by up to six months of imprisonment in the county jail, on top of the maximum fine set by the court judge. First-time offenders usually get a misdemeanor charge while repeat offenders termed “petty theft with a prior” are eligible for a felony charge.
With the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer, a defendant can successfully have these penalties reduced with a solid defense strategy, and charges can even get dismissed.
If you or someone you love is facing theft crime charges, we invite you to contact the Law Offices of Marc Grossman to request a free consultation with our defense attorneys who have extensive experience in theft crimes. We’ll make sure to evaluate all angles of your case, build the best possible legal defense, and give you a good chance in avoiding a criminal record.