LA Criminal Defense Attorney is a reputable criminal defense law firm serving clients in Los Angeles County through ouroffice in Los Angeles, CA. Our main practice areas include sex crimes, drug crimes, DUI, assault and battery, domestic violence, driving crimes, and fraud crimesamong others. Our firm is equipped with the best criminal defense lawyers who put the clients' interest ahead above anything else. We fight to make sure you have the best possible outcome and ensure that we fight for your rights as a California resident. Lastly, we also specialize infighting petty theft charges under California Law.
What is Petty Theft Under California Laws?
Penal Code 484(a) lays out the guidelines for prosecuting defendants facing theft charges in California. Every State defines and interprets criminal law differently. Therefore, it is in your best interest you understand California Law in regard to petty theft. Certain elements define how prosecutors in California prove that you committed a petty theft crime. They include:
- By Embezzlement
This form of theft is usually associated with individuals or organizations in the corporate sector. For you to be charged for this crime, the item’s owner must have authorized you to use/access the property you embezzled. The authorization must be as a result of the trust the owner had in you.
The court can convict you for fraudulently taking or using the asset for personal use with the intention of depriving it of the owner. You may also be accused of fraud if you breached a protocol or took advantage of a system when stealing the property. Arguing that you wanted the owner to give the stolen goods back won't get your charges dropped. Additionally, for the alleged crime to be considered petty theft the value of the goods needs to be $950 dollars or less.
- By Trick
PC 484(a) considers trick as one of the elements that constitute a petty theft offense. Your charges may indicate that you took some property as authorized by the owner with an intention to commit fraud. You might face these charges if you intended to keep the item for temporary or permanent use. The owner may also accuse you of using tricks or deception to acquire the asset. Again, the property value must be $950 dollars or less in order to be charged with the lesser petty theft crime.
- By False Pretense
PC 532 considers pretense as one of the factors that leadto petty theft. This law indicates that it's unlawful to deceive someone else by making false claims to take their property. Your charges may worsen if you intentionally gave the false claims or made promises you weren't willing to fulfill. The prosecutor has to rely on witnesses, false writing agreement or other evidence to prove these charges and in order to be charged with petty theft then the value of the item must be $950 dollars or less.
- By Larceny
Larceny involves using force to acquire someone else’s item. Most petty theft cases usually take the form of larceny. Your charges can indicate that you physically took someone else’s asset without their permission and moved a certain distance with it. The court may convict of you of petty theft if you intended to make the owner lose the item permanently or temporarily and the value of the item in question is $950 dollars or Less.
Is Shoplifting Considered as a Petty Theft Crime in California?
The California Legislature added shoplifting as one of the offenses under the burglary laws of California. Penal Code 459.5 highlights that it’s unlawful to intentionally enter a retail facility during the normal hours of operation to steal goods valued up to $950. Your crime should be handled as a petty theft offense.
The act of entering a retail store with an intention to steal goods is punishable under California Penal Code 459.5. This law focuses on the act of entering the store while PC 484(a) focuses on the act of stealing. Note that the punitive measures for these offenses are similar.
What Are the Differences Between Grand Theft and Petty Theft in California?
The California Constitution considers theft cases where goods have a value of up to $950 as petty theft cases. In November 2014, the California Legislature proposed changes on laws governing petty theft offenses. Proposition 47 was enacted to define grand theft as theft involving a firearm or car. Previous convictions for sex crimes, murder, and vehicular manslaughter can make your petty theft case be handled as grand theft.
What Punitive Measures Apply to Petty Theft Charges in California?
A petty theft offense qualifies as a misdemeanor under PC 484. Common punitive measures for this crime include a maximum fine of $1,000 or a six-month county jail sentence. You may also be sentenced to summary probation.
Penal Code 666 highlights the penalties that defendants will prior criminal conviction risk facing. The criminal convictions may involve receiving stolen goods, burglary, robbery, carjacking, grand theft, and petty theft. "petty theft with a prior" offense may be added to your criminal record if you had recent convictionsfor theft on an elderly person. Your case may also be handled under PC 666 if you have prior convictions of sex crimes, murder or vehicular manslaughter.
The prosecutor may charge you with “petty theft with a prior” as a felony or misdemeanor based on the nature of your offense. Penalties for a misdemeanor include 1-year county jail sentencing. You may spend 16 months to three years in state prison when found guilty of committing a felony.
How Can You Clear Petty Theft Charges Off Your Criminal Record in California?
Your criminal defense lawyer can ask the prosecutors for reduced sentencing for your petty theft charges. You may spend up to $250 in fines if the prosecutors oblige to your attorney’s request. However, this offense should be your first theft conviction, and the stolen goods should have a value of up to $50.
A diversion program for petty theft crimes might work for you if the stolen property was more than $50 in value. In California, diversion programs allow lawyers to ask the prosecution team to keep convictions off a defendant’s criminal record. If the prosecution team accepts this request, you may have your charges dropped. Requirements for informal diversion program include attending anti-theft classes, community service and repaying the item’s owner.
What are the Consequences for Immigrants Arrested for Petty Theft?
Petty theft comes with severe criminal and immigration consequences like other crimes. Such circumstances may force you to hire a criminal defense lawyer and an immigration lawyer. Depending on the nature of the offense, you may lose your green card or job. Discussed below are some of these consequences in detail.
A criminal conviction for petty theft can make it difficult for you to acquire citizenship in the United States through naturalization. You’ll need to prove that you had good character and behavior for the five years you were staying in the country. The naturalization process can take three years if your spouse is a US citizen. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may revoke or take time to grant your request to become a US citizen.
Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) considers a criminal conviction as one of the factors that may make you inadmissible for US citizenship. The immigration authorities may reject your application if you plead guilty or were prosecuted for immoral offenses. The US considers all kinds of theft as immoral crimes.
INA makes exceptions for petty theft crimes provided that the sentencing was six months or less than one year. Your criminal defense lawyer will have to support your cause by referencing the state criminal statute, which is PC 484(a), for the crime. The USCIS officer will also need court records that highlight the offense and sentence.
You risk facing deportation only if your petty theft charges are considered as a felony. The US immigration law still recognizes theft cases with over one-year jail sentence as felonies. The USCIS authorities may deny you of immigration benefits and relief if your offense is a felony. They may also deport you and make it hard for you to return to the United States.
What Types of Evidence Can the Prosecutor Use to Build a Petty Theft Case?
The California Evidence code stipulates the rules for gathering and presenting evidence related to criminal cases in California. This law states that the evidence should be reliable and relevant to the case. The code also permits your lawyer to challenge or analyze any evidence presented. Common types of evidence needed to build a petty theft case are as follows:
The prosecution team may use this evidence to prove that you were in contact with the victim. Physical evidence may include biometric data such as fingerprints and DNA. Such samples must be obtained from the crime scene for them to be reliable.
Prosecutors rely on witnesses to make allegations against petty theft charges. The witness can offer a statement in writing or speak under oath at a deposition/court. Witnesses that give false statements can be convicted of perjury.
The California Evidence Code mandates prosecutors to disclose to defendants if they have any evidence linking them to a criminal offense. You may have your charges dropped if the prosecution team fails to give you this information. Exculpatory evidence aims at partially or entirely acquitting you of the charges.
Documentary evidence may apply to cases related to theft by tricks or pretenses. In this case, the prosecutor will present contracts, invoices or wills that you used to defraud the item’s owner. The documents must have a time stamp and signatures from both parties for them to be useful in building a case.
Demonstrative evidence may include graphs, pictures, video footage, and sound recordings. The prosecutor may use such media to link you to the crime scene. However, the media must have been lawfully extracted for them to be accepted as evidence.
What the Prosecutor Must Prove for a Petty Theft Conviction
In order to prove that you committed the offense of petty theft, there are certain elements that the prosecution must prove to the court.
- The person in question took property that was not their own but the property of someone else. As long as the property the defendant possessed was the property of another person, this would aid the prosecution to prove you guilty.
- There was no consent from the owner of the property to take the item in question. If there is no evidence proving that you were allowed to take possession of the property, this element would help in proving you guilty of petty theft
- The defendant had the intent to take possession of the property from the owner’s purposefully. If there is any evidence that supports that you were planning to take property from the owner would go against your defense.
- The property in question was moved from the original place it was residing and was kept for any length of time. It does not matter how far it was taken from the owner’s possession or how long it was taken for. The prosecution only needs to prove that it was moved and it was taken for any period of time.
- The property value was $950 dollars or less, If the property in question was more than this value then you would be charged with the harsher crime of Grand Theft.
Do You Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer to Fight Petty Theft Charges in California?
Most defendants get worried about facing prison or jail time when arrested for criminal offenses. They also have their criminal records on the line when prosecuted for crimes such as petty theft. You have low chances of getting fair sentencing or asking for charge dismissal when representing yourself. Here are three valid reasons you should hire a criminal defense attorney.
Add Valuable Expertise to Your Case
Criminal defense attorneys are versed on criminal law. Using their expertise, they can evaluate your situation and figure out whether the prosecution team has strong allegations against you. They are also knowledgeable of the process, and timeline criminal cases involving petty theft take.
Weigh the Aspects and Variables of Your Case
Your attorney will find the inaccuracies in the case that can form legal defenses to prove your innocence. Variables such as incorrect legal procedures at the time of arrest are useful in this endeavor. The legal expert has the skills needed to identify loopholes in your case and use them to your advantage.
Previous cases can help the lawyer prepare legal defenses if they are related to your case. When representing yourself, you won't have any past cases to use as a reference. Your attorney can use previous inferences to help you secure a good deal.
A good criminal lawyer can negotiate fair sentences for your petty theft case. The expert may present facts that challenge the prosecutor’s evidence for the reduced sentences to be approved. If the prosecution team doesn’t have enough evidence to support the allegations, your lawyer can strike a deal to get you reduced penalties.
What are the Appropriate Legal Defenses for Petty Theft Charges in California?
PC 484(a) outlines harsh penalties for defendants found guilty of committing petty theft offenses. With certain legal defenses, a California court may be convinced to give you lesser sentencing or drop your charges. You need a competent criminal defense lawyer to argue one or more of the legal defenses discussed below:
- False Accusation
You stand a chance of being fairly prosecuted if your charges may have been as a result of false accusation. Thousands of defendants get wrongly detained for committing petty theft in California. Your lawyer can prove that you were framed or improperly arrested for the charges to be dropped.
- Consent from the Item’s Owner
Penal Code 484(a) only considers a crime such as petty theft if the owner didn't permit you in the right way. You may have used tricks or pretenses to acquire the item. Your lawyer should prove that there was legal consent between you and the item’s owner. The approval can be in the form of a document signed in the presence of a witness.
- The Stolen Property Was Yours
Arguing that you had the ownership of the stolen item can qualify as a legal defense. However, this defense may only work if your attorney can prove your legal ownership of the asset. Taking an object that belongs to you isn't considered as committing a petty theft offense.
- No Intention to Steal
PC 484(a) recognizes intent as one of the elements that constitute a petty theft case. Your attorney can argue that you weren't conscious at the time the incident happened. If it's a shoplifting case, the lawyer can say that you were distracted and forgot to pay for the item.
What Offenses are Related to Petty Theft Charges?
Getting acquitted for one petty theft offense may make you convicted of a related crime. For instance, you risk facing grand theft charges if your offense doesn't meet the threshold for a petty theft case. Offenses related to PC 484(a) charges include burglary, grand theft, robbery and mail theft as discussed below.
Mail Theft (PC 530.5(e))
Penal Code 530.5(e) defines mail theft as an unlawful act that involves taking a person's mail. The offense can occur when the mail was delivered by a letter carrier or the post office or kept in a mailbox. Punitive measures for this misdemeanor include a one-year sentence in county jail.
Robbery (PC 211)
Robbery entails using fear or force to acquire a person's item. The act may occur when you're in the presence of the individual. A robbery offense is punishable under Penal Code 211 in California with two to six-year jail sentencing in state prison. Your case can be handled as petty theft if the robbed asset has a value of up to $950.
Auto Burglary and Burglary (PC 459)
Auto burglary is an offense that entails breaking into a motor vehicle with an intention to steal or commit felony crimes. Burglary, on the other hand, involves breaking in someone else’s property intending to commit grand theft or a felony. Punitive measures for these offenses, under PC 459, include three to six-year imprisonment in state prison.
Grand Theft, Grand Theft Firearm and Grand Theft Auto (PCs 484 and 487)
Grand theft cases involve stolen goods (such as firearms or automobiles) that exceed $950 in value under Penal Code 487. A defendant with prior convictions on grave crimes risks having the theft charges handled as grand theft irrespective of the item's worth. As a misdemeanor, a grand theft offense is punishable with one-year imprisonment in county jail. Penalties for a felony grand theft include two to a three-yearstate prison or countyjail sentence.