Every jurisdiction defines the crime of grand theft differently. In California, this offense carries serious consequences upon conviction. In general, California law defines grand theft as unlawfully taking the property of another person that is worth more than $950.
Like with most offenses, there are a variety of exceptions. There are viable defenses against this charge, and there are factors that could enhance the penalties of a conviction.
If you are facing arrest or prosecution for grand theft in Los Angeles, attorney Vitaly Sigal is ready to help. An experienced criminal defense attorney, Vital Sigal has taken on the state and won. Call right away to learn more.
Grand Theft Defined
The crime of grand theft is governed by California Penal Code 487. According to the statute, it is a violation to unlawfully take the money, labor, real property, or personal property of another when it is valued at over $950. While taking things worth less than $950 is still a crime, it falls under a different statute.
Another important element of the crime of grand theft is intent. It is not enough to simply take the property of another person. To be guilty of grand theft, you must do so knowingly with the intent to deprive the owner of it permanently. In other words, grand theft should not apply to a mistake or misunderstanding.
There are many ways the crime of grand theft can occur. Grand theft by larceny is one of the most common – and straightforward – examples of the crime. Larceny involves simply taking the property of another person, often when they are unaware.
Grand theft could also occur by false pretense. This crime occurs when a person uses deception to convince another to part with their possessions. This could involve lying or simply failing to provide all relevant information.
Theft of Automobiles and Firearms
The statute carves out two important exceptions to the value requirement under California Penal Code 487. In most cases, the property must be valued above $950 to qualify as grand theft. There are two important exceptions. The first involves the theft of any type of firearm. The second includes the theft of an automobile. Unofficially, this is known as grand theft auto.
Because the valuation requirement does not apply in these two cases, any theft charging involving a firearm or a vehicle is treated as a grand theft regardless of the value of the item.
Classification and Penalties
The classification of a grand theft charge is typically up to the prosecutor. That is because, in most situations, grand theft is a “wobbler.” A wobbler is a crime that offers the prosecutor the discretion of making a case a misdemeanor or a felony. A prosecutor will typically consider the factors of the case and the defendant's criminal history when making this decision.
If charged as a misdemeanor, grand theft could result in up to one year in a county jail. The potential penalties for a felony charge are higher. If convicted of felony grand theft, you could face a state prison sentence of 16 months, 2 years, or three years. Alternatively, you might instead be sentenced to felony probation after spending up to a year in county jail.
There is another important exception to consider. When a grand theft charge involves the theft of a firearm, the prosecutor has no choice in the matter. These cases are always treated as felonies under state law.
Historically, California extended the sentence of a grand theft conviction for years when the value of the stolen item was high. However, that provision of state law is no longer in effect. That does not mean the court will not consider the value of the stolen item when handing down a sentence.
Following an arrest for grand theft, the police and prosecutors might suggest the evidence against you is overwhelming. The reality is that many of these cases are defensible. There are many potential defenses available in a grand theft case. While each of them may not apply in every situation, they could result in an acquittal depending on the facts of the case.
Lack of Intent
One of the strongest defenses in a grand theft case is the lack of intent. After all, grand theft is a crime of intent. If your intention was not to permanently deprive another of their property, this statute might not apply. There are countless examples of the lack of intent to commit theft. For example, if you absentmindedly pick up the wrong luggage at the airport, you did not intend to permanently deprive the owner of its contents.
Given the value requirement, you could defeat a charge of grand theft by establishing the item stolen was not worth $950. This defense might defeat a grand theft charge but would not have any effect on a charge of petit theft.
Claim of Right
California law recognizes the claim of right defense. This defense involves taking something you have a good faith belief belongs to you. For example, if your bicycle is stolen and you believe you see it in the front yard of another person weeks later, this defense might protect you if you take it back. This is true even if the bike turns out not to be yours.
There are limits to this defense. You may not use it if you used deception or concealed your actions when taking the property back. Likewise, you may not attempt to conceal the property after claiming it. This defense also does not apply to illegal items like drugs.
Grand theft only occurs when the taking is unlawful. If the owner of the property consents to your taking or using the item, you are not guilty of the offense of grand theft. This defense does not work if you go outside of the bounds of that consent, like keeping the property longer than you agreed to.
Speak with an L.A. Grand Theft Defense Attorney Today
The potential consequences of a grand theft conviction are serious. To ensure your rights are protected, discuss your case with the Sigal Law Group right away.