In order to understand the crime of grand theft in California, it is necessary to define what is meant by “theft.” The Penal Code does not leave that issue to the imagination; rather, it spells out the specifics of the term, under the general definition of “larceny.” It also lays out the potential penalties of a conviction, which, with some exceptions, is a wobbler, meaning that it can be filed as a misdemeanor or a felony.
If you are facing a grand theft charge in the San Diego area, the potential consequences are serious, not only because of the penalties in the event you are convicted, but also in the effect of a theft conviction on your future, including your job opportunities. It is essential that you retain the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands the law and has the experience to obtain the best result possible in your case.
Understanding grand theft begins, not surprisingly, with the definition of “theft” under the California Penal Code. That definition is extensive, and includes, among other things, the following provisions contained in PC 484:
- Stealing the property of another person.
- Obtaining credit, money, property, or services through fraudulent representations, including false information about your identity.
- Appropriating to your own use property entrusted to you by another person.
- Receiving money for goods or services, and then failing to apply that money for its intended purpose.
- Transfer or use of a credit or debit card without the owner’s consent.
- Finding property you know or should know belongs to another person and retaining that property for your own use.
These are merely several examples of the many forms of theft under the Penal Code.
The next question, of course, is the distinction between grand theft, on the one hand, and petty theft, on the other. As shown below, that distinction is a function of the value of property, the nature of the property, and other factors. Here are some examples of grand theft (PC 487):
- Where the property allegedly stolen, taken, converted, etc., has a value of more than $950.
- In the case of farm crops, fish, and certain other items, where the value is more than $250.
- Theft of automobiles or firearms.
- Conversion of real property worth $250 or more.
- Theft of a dog worth more than $950.
- Theft of certain precious metals.
- Theft of cargo – merchandise or goods that have been placed in a railroad car or trailer for transit – worth more than $950.
There are numerous additional variations on the offense, but the above examples point out the general rules that define grand theft.
Not all grand theft offenses are treated the same for purposes of the potential penalty if you are convicted. For example, theft of a firearm is always a felony, punishable by imprisonment in state prison for 16 months, 2 years or 3 years. Other grand theft charges are wobblers, meaning that they can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Note that most grand theft charges, if you are convicted, may also include a fine, and that fine may be imposed in addition to or lieu of imprisonment.
Because of the variety of circumstances in which theft may take place, prosecutors may seek to increase the pressure on a defendant by charging an offense beyond that which may be called for under the circumstances. One example is charging theft, or even burglary, where the actual charge should be shoplifting. While the law was changed several years ago in an attempt to ensure that shoplifting not be charged, for example, as burglary, you may still find yourself facing a more serious charge than may be appropriate under the alleged facts of your case. The distinction is important because burglary is always a felony, while shoplifting, at least in the absence of prior shoplifting convictions, is always a misdemeanor.
A common defense to a grand theft charge is lack of intent. Grand theft is a specific intent crime. This means that one of the elements of the offense is usually that you intended to take property belonging to another person. But perhaps you thought the property was yours; or misunderstood the instructions given when you took possession; or you intended to return the property to its owner. Once again, the prosecution must show that you intended to permanently deprive the owner (or rightful possessor) of possession. In other cases, you may be the rightful owner or possessor of the property.
Whatever the facts are in your case, you want an experienced San Diego criminal lawyer who can spot weaknesses in the case against you, and work aggressively on your behalf to achieve the best result possible. This makes a difference, particularly when charged with a crime such as grand theft, where there are so many variations and issues that can and often do arise.
What RJT Criminal Lawyer can do is use our experience and work hard to obtain a dismissal or a not guilty verdict, a reduction in the severity of the charge, or alternative sentencing if you are convicted. Call us at 619-577-0868 for a free consultation.