While it is true that “stealing is stealing,” it is also true that there are different types of theft as defined by California criminal laws and that each theft charge may carry a different sentence depending on the severity of the crime. As a criminal defense attorney serving clients from Los Angeles and surrounding areas for more than a decade, I realize that the average citizen does not share my intimate knowledge of California theft laws. To help my current and prospective clients better understand these charges, I have created this basic guide to the different types of theft recognized by California criminal statutes.
As defined by California Penal Code 484, theft is an umbrella term used to refer to a situation where something is taken from a person with the specific intent to deprive that person of that property. There are two general categories of theft: petty theft and grand theft.
Petty theft is the theft of property or services valued at $950 or less, and this is usually charged as a misdemeanor. Misdemeanor petty theft in California may carry a fine of up to $1,000, a sentence of up to six months in a county jail, or both. If an offender is accused of stealing something valued at less than $50 and has no prior theft convictions, he or she may be charged only with an infraction and fined up to $250. In California, the majority of petty theft cases are based on shoplifting (or “theft by larceny”) charges.
Grand Theft is the theft of property or services valued at more than $950 and may carry a sentence of imprisonment for up to three years, depending on the specifics of the crime.
Burglary involves the unlawful entry to or presence in a structure for the purpose of committing theft. Burglary charges may be exacerbated by the severity of the crime, such as if breaking and entering or a home invasion was involved.
Robbery is theft where violence, threats, and/or force are used to take property from another. In California, robbery may carry a sentence of six to nine years, and this sentence may be extended if armed robbery was committed.
In addition to burglary and robbery, other types of theft may include embezzlement, fraud, failure to return rented property, unlawful use of a credit card, using false information to pawn items, fraudulently obtaining credit, and other crimes.
While it may seem as though there is no good defense for a theft charge, this is not always the case. It may be possible for a skilled attorney to employ one or more of the following defenses to fight theft charges:
- Mistaken identity or mistaken facts
- Owner's consent
- Accused claims ownership or right to ownership
- Accused was intoxicated and did not actually intend to steal
If you or someone you love has been charged with theft in the Los Angeles area, working with an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you face the legal system with confidence. To learn more about how an attorney can help you achieve the best outcome for your situation, please contact me today.