LA Theft Crimes Lawyer
Theft crimes vary substantially in how they are treated by the courts and by law enforcement.  Whether shoplifting a pack of gum or armed robbery of a bank, the law treats depriving another of their property very seriously.  Especially when violence, the threat of violence or the possibility of violence is involved.  Sometimes innocent people are falsely accused and sometimes otherwise good people make one mistake.  All theft crimes are considered crimen falsi (crimes of dishonesty) and can greatly affect your criminal record, employment, and even ability to testify in court.  Here is a breakdown of the different theft-related offenses under California law:

PC 484 and PC 488 make theft where the value of the goods stolen is under $950 a misdemeanor, petty theft.  This is the most common theft crime charged in California.  If the value of goods stolen is under $50, the misdemeanor can become an infraction.  PC 666 allows the prosecution to treat Petty Thefts as a felony if the defendant has a prior petty theft conviction.  In these cases, your attorney may be able to negotiate for a misdemeanor anyway.  Theft of items worth less that $950 can also be Grand Theft, and can be charged as felonies if the property stolen is a car (Grand Theft Auto), the theft involves a firearm (Grand Theft Firearm), or the property is taken directly from the person of another (Grand Theft Person).  With a strong defense, it is possible to win your case at trial or to avoid jail time with plea bargaining.

When the value of goods stolen exceeds $950, PC 487 provides that the defendant will be charged with Grand Theft.  Grand theft is a "wobbler" and can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony.  Even if initially charged as a felony, it can later be reduced to a misdemeanor with a 17B motion or Prop 47 motion (if value below $950).  Additionally, with a pending grand theft case, an attorney can argue the valuation of the stolen items or whether an item was in fact taken "from the person of another."  Grand theft carries more severe penalties than Petty Theft and should be taken very seriously. 

PC 496 makes it a crime to buy, sell, conceal, or withhold any knowingly stolen property.  If someone is found in possession of stolen property, even without any evidence of a taking, they can be convicted of Receiving Stolen Property.  Like many theft crimes, PC 496 is a "wobbler" and can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony.  The best defense to this charge is to show that there was no way to reasonably know the property was stolen.  Pursuant to CA Prop 47, receiving stolen property valued below $950 is a misdemeanor.  This applies retroactively to already-sustained convictions.

Pursuant to PC 459, entering a structure with the intent to commit a felony (or any theft) inside constitutes burglary in California.  This means that Burglary can be charged even when there is no theft.  For example, if someone breaks into a business to vandalize, that can be charged as a burglary.  There is no requirement that the defendant "break" in, steal anything or even commit any felony once in the structure.  So long as the defendant had an intent to commit a theft or felony when entering, he/she can be found guilty of burglary.  2nd Degree Burglary (not of a residence), is a "wobbler" and can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony.  As a result of CA Prop 47, commercial burglary, as a felony can only be applied to thefts of over $950, and thefts not at normal business hours.  Shoplifting is shoplifting now in California, not burglary as has been charged for so long.  If you or someone you know has a prior conviction for commercial burglary, you may be eligible to reduce your felony to a misdemeanor.

Residential burglary (1st degree) is treated much more seriously because of the likelihood that the event may escalate into violence.  Residential burglary is always a felony, a "strike" under California's three strikes law when someone enters an inhabited dwelling. 

Because intent is the key element to burglary, fighting a Burglary charge is possible.  Intent to steal or commit another felony could have occurred after entry, making it no longer a burglary.

Under PC 211, it is a felony (and a "strike") to take any property from the person or presence of another by the use of force or fear.  This is the most serious of all theft crimes and is subject to substantial enhancements for use of a weapon, bodily injury to the victim.  The force requirement can be satisfied even after the taking took place.  For example, if a store catches and stops a shoplifter, and the shoplifter uses force to get away, they could be charged with robbery.  Even stealing items of small value could go from a small, Petty Theft to a felony that is also a "strike".

If you have any specific questions about California theft crimes not addressed above or are facing any of the charges discussed, contact my office for a free consultation with a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney.

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Nicholas M. Loncar, Esq. 
Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney
t: 213-375-3775 | f: 213-375-3099
Mobile: 323-803-4352
1200 Wilshire Blvd | Suite 406
Los Angeles, CA | 90017

By Nicholas Loncar



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