How Is Theft Defined In California?

In California, theft is legally defined as the unlawful taking of someone else’s property. The classification of the theft—whether it is grand theft or petty theft—depends on the value of the property taken:

  • Grand Theft (Penal Code 487): This occurs when the value of the stolen property exceeds nine hundred fifty dollars ($950). Grand theft can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the specifics of the case, including the property’s value and the circumstances of the theft.
  • Petty Theft (Penal Code 484(a) & 488): This involves the unlawful taking of property valued at nine hundred fifty dollars ($950) or less. Petty theft is typically charged as a misdemeanor in California, with penalties including fines and potential jail time.

Types of Theft Cases We Defend Against

At the Law Offices of Arash Hashemi, we specialize in a comprehensive range of theft cases, ensuring robust defense across various scenarios. Our expertise extends to, but is not limited to, the following types of theft:

  • Burglary (Penal Code 459): We handle cases involving unlawful entry into a building with the intent to commit theft or any felony inside.
  • Embezzlement (Penal Code 503): Our defense services cover embezzlement, where someone fraudulently appropriates property entrusted to them.
  • Theft by Fraud (Penal Code 484): We defend against accusations of obtaining property through deceit or fraudulent means.
  • Shoplifting (Penal Code 459.5): Our team is experienced in defending shoplifting charges, involving the taking of goods from a retail establishment.
  • Theft by Trick (Penal Code 484): We also handle cases where property is deceitfully obtained from the owner who willingly hands it over based on false pretenses.

Arrest Procedures for Petty Theft Charges

In California, individuals charged with petty theft are not always subject to arrest. Typically, those accused of petty theft, defined as the unlawful taking of property valued at $950 or less, are issued a citation requiring court appearance. This approach is in line with the state’s policy to manage minor offenses without immediate incarceration.

However, circumstances can vary, especially for repeat offenders. If an individual has prior petty theft charges, the likelihood of arrest increases. California law takes into account the defendant’s criminal history when determining the response to a new charge. This approach aims to balance the enforcement of law with the efficient use of law enforcement resources, ensuring that repeat offenders receive appropriate legal attention.

Legal Implications of Accompanying Someone Committing Petty Theft

In California, accompanying someone who commits petty theft can indeed result in charges against you. Being present and involved in the situation, even if not directly committing the theft, can lead to varying degrees of legal responsibility. The charges can range from petty theft, under Penal Code 484(a), to more serious offenses depending on your level of involvement and the specifics of the case. This reflects the law’s stance on complicity and the importance of understanding the legal consequences of one’s actions in the context of theft-related offenses.

Legal Consequences of Returning Stolen Property

In California, returning stolen property does not necessarily exempt someone from being charged with theft. The act of taking the property unlawfully can still lead to charges, regardless of the subsequent return. Many businesses enforce strict policies against theft, often opting to prosecute regardless of whether the stolen items are returned. This stance is consistent with the legal principle that the initial act of theft constitutes a violation, and returning the property does not negate the fact that a crime was committed.

Procedure Following a Theft Arrest in California

After a theft arrest in California, the process varies based on the arrest’s nature:

  • Citation Issuance: If you receive a citation, you must appear in court on the scheduled date to address the charge.
  • Jail Booking: If arrested and booked into jail, two scenarios may unfold:
    • Release with a Promise: You might be released with a promise to appear in court.
    • Bail Requirement: Alternatively, bail could be set. You can either post bail for release or stay in custody until your court date.

First Court Appearance for Theft Charges

During the initial court appearance for a theft charge in California, several key steps occur:

  1. Notification of Charges: You will be formally informed of the charges against you.
  2. Review of Evidence: The police report and other relevant evidence will be presented and made available for review.
  3. Plea Offer and Response: Typically, the prosecution may present an offer. In most cases, a plea of ‘not guilty’ is entered at this stage.
  4. Scheduling Further Proceedings: The court will then schedule a subsequent court date to continue the legal process.

Prosecution’s Burden of Proof in Theft Cases

In California theft cases, the prosecution carries the burden of proof and must establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This involves proving each element of the theft offense as defined in the Penal Code:

  1. Unlawful Taking: The prosecution must demonstrate that the accused unlawfully took property belonging to someone else.
  2. Intent: It must be proven that the accused intended to deprive the owner of the property permanently or for an extended period such that the owner’s enjoyment of the property is significantly diminished.
  3. Property Value: In cases distinguishing between petty and grand theft, the prosecution must establish the value of the stolen property to determine the charge’s severity.

What Are The Potential Penalties For Petty Theft In California?

Petty theft in California, classified as a misdemeanor, carries specific penalties:

  • Maximum Fine: Individuals convicted of petty theft may face a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).
  • Jail Time: Additionally, there’s a possibility of up to six (6) months in county jail.

What Is The Impact Of Prior Theft Convictions On A Petty Theft Charge In California?

Under California Penal Code 666, known as “Petty Theft with a Prior,” the presence of prior theft-related convictions can significantly impact the penalties for a new petty theft charge. This law applies if you have previous convictions and have served time for specific theft crimes. The relevant prior convictions include:

  • Petty Theft
  • Grand Theft
  • Grand Theft Auto
  • Burglary
  • Carjacking
  • Robbery
  • Felony Receiving Stolen Property

If you have one of these prior convictions, a new petty theft offense may not be treated as a simple misdemeanor. Instead, it could lead to more severe penalties, potentially elevating the charge to a felony level. This enhancement reflects the state’s policy of imposing stricter consequences on repeat offenders in theft-related cases.

Options for Addressing Theft Charges on Your Record

While a theft conviction in California is indeed serious and classified as a “crime of moral turpitude,” there are legal avenues to potentially avoid having a theft charge permanently on your record:

  1. Diversion Programs: For first-time offenders or minor offenses, courts may offer diversion programs. Successfully completing such a program can result in the charges being dismissed, thereby keeping the theft charge off your record.
  2. Plea Bargaining: An experienced attorney may negotiate a plea bargain where the theft charge is reduced to a lesser offense that may not carry the same stigma as a crime of moral turpitude.
  3. Expungement: After fulfilling all the conditions of your sentence, including probation, you may be eligible for expungement. This process does not erase the conviction but can withdraw the guilty plea or verdict and dismiss the case, offering some relief in background checks.
  4. Good Moral Character Rehabilitation: Demonstrating rehabilitation and good moral character over time can mitigate the impact of a theft conviction, especially in contexts like immigration proceedings.

What Are Some Strategies For Dealing With Theft Charges?

An experienced California criminal defense attorney, may be able to help you beat grand theft charges using certain common legal defenses. In a typical grand theft case, these might include asserting the position that: You did not have the intend to steal, The alleged stolen property actually belonged to you, The person who owned the item consented to you taking it, and/or, You were falsely accused.

An attorney can help assess the consequences of your plea. Most time people plea to a charge without fully understanding how that plea will affect their future prospects for employment, schooling and/or immigration purposes.

For more information on Theft Charges In California, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by contacting us online or by calling (310) 448-1529 today. Our office is conveniently located in the Westside Towers in Los Angeles, within minutes of Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Westwood, and steps away from the Expo/Bundy Station. We have flexible hours and weekend appointments, and we will visit you in jail to discuss your case.

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