California property crimes can overwhelm both the accused and the victim. Destroying property through vandalism or fire, or stealing property can mean someone losing their home, livelihood, or the only means of transport. Losing property could take an emotional or financial toll, and some property crimes may lead to death or bodily injury.
Due to the possibility of severe financial or physical harm inflicted by property offenses, California law treats them as severe crimes. If you have been charged with any of these offenses, reach out to a skilled property crimes attorney to protect and defend your constitutional rights. Based on the facts of your case, a conviction could attract more severe penalties that could significantly affect your life for many years.
At Darwish Law, we will do everything in our power to ensure you obtain the best possible outcome for any of your property crimes charges. We will help you build a strong defense that may have your charges dismissed or reduced. Call us if you have been charged with a property crime or any other criminal offense in Santa Ana, CA, and we will attend to you right away.
The Definition of Property Crimes
Property crimes are a class of crimes that usually involve private property. They are crimes to obtain property, money, or other benefits. They could entail using force or threats of force. These offenses are considered property crimes because they are committed purposely to enrich the perpetrators. Crimes against property are categorized into two— those that involve unlawfully obtaining someone else's property and those that entail destroying/damaging property. Examples of property crimes that entail unlawfully acquiring property are grand theft or petty theft, while property destruction acts include vandalism or arson.
For crimes involving the illegal acquisition of someone else's property, how severe the charges will be and the penalties imposed depend on the value of the involved property and how the offense was committed. Charges and consequences of property damage crimes depend on how badly the property in question is damaged and the location of the offense.
Crimes against property encompass many types of criminal charges, including felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions. Each crime carries consequences and penalties that vary depending on your past criminal record and circumstances surrounding the offense.
Crimes against property also encompass criminal activities that do not involve stealing or destruction, for instance, Penal Code 496, receiving stolen property. A conviction of any of these offenses usually comes with devastating consequences. You want to seek legal counsel as soon as possible if charged.
Examples of Crimes Against Property
There is a wide range of property crimes prosecuted under California law. Discussed below are just a few of them:
Trespassing, Penal Code 602
Penal Code 602 defines trespassing as unlawfully entering or remaining onto someone else's property. The prosecution may charge you with trespassing if you unlawfully access buildings, lands, or any other property belonging to someone else without their permission. It is especially unlawful to illegally enter another individual's property if a sign forbidding trespassing is visible. Additionally, it is against the law to damage, remove, or destroy any signs or fences that mark someone else's property boundaries.
Trespassing laws in California also make it unlawful to access someone else's property intending to cause damage on that property. You could also be subject to criminal prosecution if you access someone else's property intending to disrupt business activity on the property. Accessing someone else's property without permission and refusing to leave even after being asked to is also considered trespassing.
The crime of trespassing can be prosecuted as an infraction, misdemeanor, or in rare cases, felony based on the circumstances surrounding the case. Infraction punishments upon a conviction include a fine of 75 dollars if it is the first offense and 250 dollars for a second offense on the same property. However, you will face misdemeanor charges if it is your third offense on the same property.
A misdemeanor conviction for trespassing carries informal probation, a maximum of six months in jail, and up to a 1,000 dollars in fines. However, given types of misdemeanor trespassing charges, like declining to leave a battered women's shelter after a manager requests you to do so, carry a possible jail term of a year. When aggravating factors exist in your trespassing offense, it becomes a wobbler. These aggravating factors include making credible threats to severely injure someone else, intending to make them fear for their safety or that of their family. Misdemeanor aggravated trespass is punishable by up to a year in jail and up to 2,000 dollars in fines. A felony conviction is punished by up to three years in prison or formal probation.
You could be charged with trespassing even if you did not intend to trespass or break the law. With help from an expert lawyer, you can mount a solid defense strategy that will help you fight these charges. While defending against trespassing charges, your lawyer can argue that you accessed the property legally. They can also assert that you lacked the intent to damage the property. If a “no trespassing”sign was not displayed on the property that you are alleged to trespass, your lawyer can argue that you did not see any sign warning against entering the property or you did not know you had no right to access the property. These defenses can help you successfully fight the trespassing charges against you. Other legal defenses to a trespassing crime include the constitutional right to assemble peacefully to protest. Trespassing laws aim to give property owners the right to live and conduct businesses on their property with no disturbance.
Shoplifting, Penal Code 459.5 (a)
Shoplifting is a property crime described under 459.5(a) PC. It means going into a commercial structure during usual business hours intending to steal, and the amount of the item you steal is not more than $950. Before Proposition 47 was passed, a charge of shoplifting with prior intent would have led to you being detained and prosecuted under Penal Code 459, burglary in the second degree or commercial burglary, irrespective of the stolen items' value.
Shoplifting is usually a misdemeanor if you have been charged for the first time. However, the offense could become a felony if it is your subsequent shoplifting offense, you have a prior severe felony conviction, or you are a registered sex offender per Penal Code 290. As a misdemeanor, shoplifting is punishable by up to six months in jail, summary probation, a maximum of one thousand dollars in fines, labor or community service, court-ordered counseling programs about theft, and victim restitution.
Petty Theft, Penal Code 484 (a)
Penal Code 484(a) is the law that describes the crime of petty theft. This crime is defined as defrauding or stealing someone else's property, money, or labor intending to permanently deprive them of their ownership and where the property value is not more than $950. Note that even though the state's petty theft law is closely related to 459.5 PC shoplifting, you cannot be prosecuted under both laws simultaneously if the charge arises out of a single act. Petty theft is theft of property worth below $950, which does not involve commercial structures during the usual business hours.
Petty theft is a misdemeanor except if aggravating factors exist in your case. A conviction is punishable by up to six months in jail, misdemeanor probation, up to one thousand dollars in fines, labor or community service, victim restitution, and a court-ordered counseling program for theft offenses.
Grand Theft, Penal Code 487 (a)
Penal Code 487(a) describes grand theft as the stealing or illegal taking of someone else's property, money, or labor, whereby the value is more than 950 dollars. This crime is more severe than petty theft and shoplifting and is considered a wobbler. A wobbler is a crime that can be prosecuted either as a misdemeanor or felony. A conviction of this offense carries hasher possible sentencing options, enhanced further if the crime is charged as a felony and if you have a past criminal record. Like all property crimes, grand theft is charged and penalized based on the circumstances surrounding the case, the value of the stolen property, and the defendant's past criminal record.
If found guilty of misdemeanor grand theft, the possible punishments you will be subject to are up to a year in jail, summary probation, and a fine not exceeding 1,000 dollars. And if found guilty of a felony, you may face three years in prison, formal probation with a year in jail, victim restitution and fines, labor or community service, and court-issued ordered counseling programs.
Burglary, Penal Code 459
Under Penal Code 459, any theft you commit with a prior intention is burglary. This crime is defined as entering any residential or commercial structure or a locked auto intending to steal or commit a felony crime once inside. You could face burglary charges even if there is no forced entry.
Burglary is categorized into two— burglary in the first and second degree. First-degree burglary is also called residential burglary, and it is the most severely punished. You commit this crime when you enter a residence or dwelling meant for inhabitants intending to steal or commit a felony. The inhabitants do not need to have been present during the burglary to be convicted of this crime. Thus, if you commit a burglary in a residence while the people who live there are away, you will still face first-degree burglary charges. First-degree burglary is always charged as a felony. Possible penalties include up to six years in prison, felony probation, a maximum of 10,000 dollars in fines. The crime also counts as a strike under the state's Three Strikes law.
Burglary in the second degree is also referred to as commercial burglary. It encompasses all the other types of burglaries that do not involve the illegal entry into a residence or dwelling, for instance, entering into a store, business, or vehicle intending to steal or commit a felony. This crime is still severely-punished, but less so than burglary in the first degree. Even though burglary in the second degree is a lesser offense, it is deemed a wobbler, meaning you could face felony instead of misdemeanor charges. A felony would enhance your sentencing if found guilty. Generally, misdemeanor consequences upon conviction include informal probation, up to a year in jail, and a maximum fine of a thousand dollars, while felony consequences include up to three years in jail, 10,000 dollars in fines, labor/community service, and court-ordered counseling programs for theft.
Vandalism, Penal Code 594
Vandalism is described as maliciously defacing, destroying, or damaging any real or personal property that is not yours. The penalties of this crime vary depending on the value of the damaged property. If the damage was worth 400 dollars or higher, you might be subject to wobbler charges. A misdemeanor conviction will subject you to a year in jail and a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars. On the other hand, a felony conviction carries up to three years in prison and a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars. If the damage were worth less than 400 dollars, you would face misdemeanor charges punishable by a year in jail and up to a thousand dollars in fines. And if the damage was worth between 400 and 10,000 dollars, you may face one year in jail and a fine not exceeding fifty thousand dollars. Keep in mind that if you are a repeat offender, you may face enhanced penalties if convicted of vandalism.
You may also face enhanced penalties for vandalism if aggravating factors exist in your case. For example, if you vandalize property for gang members' benefits, your penalties may be increased per Penal Code 186.22, gang enhancement sentencing law. This would mean hefty fines and a lengthy incarceration period.
You can fight Penal Code 594 violation charges with the help of a skilled criminal defense lawyer. The lawyer can argue it was a case of mistaken identity, and you did not vandalize the property in question. It is not uncommon for the police to misinterpret footage from surveillance cameras. Also, it is not unusual for an eyewitness, who might not have spotted the vandalism perpetrators, to accuse an innocent person of vandalism.
If it is your first vandalism offense or you are a child offender, you could face alternative sentencing. If that is the case, you could avoid a jail term. A skilled lawyer can help you explore the various alternative sentencing options available to ensure you avoid incarceration. For example, the judge may order probation rather than a jail term. If sentenced to probation, the judge may need you to do community service or undergo counseling.
Arson, Penal Code 451
Arson is a severely-prosecuted crime under California statute because of its destructive nature. This crime is described under PC 451 as willfully, intentionally, and maliciously burning property. The crime of arson takes many forms under California statute. However, all these forms hinge on the willful and malicious destruction or damaging of property, injury inflicted and resulting in significant physical injury and death. Arson is a felony. The specific penalties depend on the kind of property you burned and whether someone sustained burn injuries or not. Possible penalties upon a conviction include:
- Up to three years in prison if it is arson of personal property
- Up to six years in prison for arson of forest land or a structure
- Up to eight years in state prison if it is arson that makes an inhabited property or inhabited structure burn
- A maximum of nine years in state prison if the arson caused significant bodily injury
You can commit arson on your property with the intent to commit insurance fraud. If caught, you will face felony charges, and a conviction carries up to three years in prison. And if someone dies due to your arson crime, you may be prosecuted under both murder and arson law. You may also try committing arson but fail. Under California statute, attempted arson is considered a felony punished by up to three years in prison.
Apart from a prison sentence, the judge may also need you to pay a fine and court costs. You may also be required to register as an arsonist for life. Arson is also a strike under the state's Three Strikes law.
You may be subject to sentence enhancement if you have a past arson conviction under California statute. If arson causes significant physical injury to a protected emergency person such as a firefighter, you could be subject to enhanced punishment. You could also face enhanced consequences if more than one victim suffers significant physical injury because of your crime. If you burn more than structure during the commission of your crime, you could also face enhanced penalties.
Investigating arson cases might take longer because, in many cases, proof may be burnt down. The investigators may need to use a sophisticated chemical analysis system to find the evidence. After knowing the actual cause of the fire, they can know whether the fire was intentional or accidental. If anybody witnessed the suspect start the fire, filing arson charges against that suspect would be easy. Law enforcement may identify the suspect if the proof of starting the fire is linked to them.
Contact a Skilled Santa Ana Criminal Lawyer Near Me
If you have been charged with any California property crime, you need a lawyer to help you form a strong legal strategy that will realize the best possible outcome. At Darwish Law, we will not only help you build a compelling defense but also stick by your side through the entire criminal process. We will fight aggressively for you in court and do all we can to have your charges dismissed. And if that is impossible, we will use our negotiation skills to obtain you a better deal and sentencing options. Call us at 714-887-4810 for a free consultation and share the details of your case. We serve clients who have been charged with property crimes and other types of criminal charges in Santa Ana, CA, and the surrounding areas.