Theft crimes are the most common property crimes prosecuted in California. A grand theft crime is a more severe theft crime that will have you prosecuted and penalized heavily if found guilty by the law. Darwish Law is a criminal defense attorney with a record of success and significant experience in helping clients in Santa Ana with grand theft charges and other criminal offenses. We are here to help you if you are facing these charges.
Grand Theft Overview
Taking another person’s property without their consent to steal it is known as theft. According to California Penal Code Section 487 PC, it’s unlawful to take someone property whose value exceeds $950. Violators of Penal Code section 487 PC should be held guilty of grand theft, which is a criminal offense. The prosecutor of grand theft can choose to file the case as either a misdemeanor or felony offense depending on the circumstances surrounding the case.
The defendant will not be guilty of grand theft if the value of the property he/she stole is valued less than $950. Theft of property valued less than $950 is known as petty theft under Penal Code 484. The prosecutor may choose to file petty theft as a misdemeanor. However, if there was some form of violence during the alleged petty theft, the defendant might likely receive more additional sentencing enhancement as a felony offense.
Unlawful taking of any of the following without the owner’s consent with the intent to steal is a violation of Penal Code 487 and will have the defendant guilty of grand theft crime:
- Farm products which include crops and domestic fowl with a value exceeding $950
- Firearm, vehicle, horse or any other farm animal regardless of its value
- Labor, property or money taken by an employee directly from his/her employer within twelve months is a grand theft
- Receiving property taken from another person
- Taking someone else money, property or labor with a value exceeding $950
- Taking of agricultural and ocean products with a value exceeding $250 from a research facility
Any type of theft crime conviction will most likely have long term negative consequences on your life, including grand theft. If you face charges of grand theft, you must get advice and legal representation from a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Your criminal defense attorney will review the case elements to build concrete evidence for defense in the court of law. For you to be held guilty of California grand theft, your prosecutor must prove every element of this crime to the tribunal beyond a reasonable doubt.
Forms of Grand Theft and Crime Elements
There are different ways you can commit a grand theft crime, as illustrated above. The elements of the crime that the prosecutor uses to charge you of the offense depend on the type of grand theft crime you’ve done and how the property was acquired. The elements of crime in each form of grand theft is different. Below are various forms of grand theft that the prosecutor must prove for you to be guilty of the violation of California Penal Code 487:
1. Grand Theft by False Pretense
Pretense in grand theft occurs when someone deceives another person into turning over the ownership and possession of their property. Under California penal Code 532, it is unlawful to obtain another person’s labor, money, or property knowingly and intentionally by use of fraudulent representations or pretense. The prosecutor must prove the following elements of theft by untruthful pretense to be held guilty of grand theft crime:
- Your untruthful pretense actions were with intent to convince the property owner to turn over their property ownership rights
- The value of the property you allegedly stole is worth more than $950
- The owner turned over their property possession and ownership rights to you because they relied on your untruthful pretense
- You made a dishonest pretense knowingly and intentionally by saying something untrue or by using fraudulent representations
Under California Law, making untruthful pretense in grand theft is not always an obvious thing. Therefore, allegations of untruthful pretense must be reviewed and understood on a deeper level. For instance, if you engage in a business deal and you give your property to someone else, then later after second thoughts, you decide to accuse the person you sold your property to of using untruthful pretense to acquire your property. In this scenario, the other person should not be guilty of untruthful pretense in grand theft because you willfully give out your property as part of the business deal.
The California law recognizes the possibility of such allegations for grand theft by untruthful pretense. Hence the prosecutor needs to show the following pieces of evidence for you to be held guilty:
- Testimony from at least two eyewitnesses or one eyewitness plus some more other evidence
- The fraudulent representation used was untruthful writing inform a document like a contract or a fake check
- Untruthful writings showing pretense which is also handwritten or signed by you
2. Grand Theft by Larceny
Grand theft by larceny happens when you physically carry or move someone else property without their consent with the intent to steal. Legally the prosecutor must prove the following elements of this crime for you to be held guilty of grand theft:
- You moved someone’s property and kept it for a certain period regardless of the distance you moved the property
- You took another person's property long enough to deprive the owner of its value and enjoyment of it
- The value of the property you moved exceed $950 or the property was an automobile or a firearm
- You took possession of another person property without their consent
It’s important to note that even simple shoplifting cases, which seem like a routine amongst most people, might lead to grand theft by larceny charges if the value of the property stolen exceeds $950.
3. Grand Theft by Embezzlement
When you fraudulently obtain another person's property that you were trusted with is known as embezzlement. California embezzlement laws are in the Penal Code Section 503 PC. The defendant might be guilty of the violation of both Penal Code Section 487 PC grand theft or Penal Code Section 503 PC of embezzlement depending on the amount of property stolen. You could be guilty of a felony offense if the property amount exceeds $950. Below are key elements that make you guilty of grand theft by embezzlement:
- You had the intent to deprive the other person his/her property either temporarily or permanently
- You fraudulently benefited yourself from the other person property
- The property owner entrusted you with his/her property
- The property value exceeds $950
- The owner put you in a position of great trust for his/her property
Note that even if you had plans to return the property later, you might still be held guilty of grand theft by embezzlement. Therefore, you must hire a reliable criminal defense attorney if you’re a victim of grand theft allegations for the right legal representation to avoid hefty penalties.
4. Grand Theft by Trick
The last form of grand theft is grand theft by trick. Grand theft by trick happens when you use deceit or fraud to possess someone’s else property, labor, or money. For you to be guilty of this crime, the prosecutor will have to prove the following elements of the crime beyond no reasonable doubt to the tribunal:
- The property owner had no intentions of transferring the property ownership to you
- The value of the property you took exceed $950
- When you took the property, you had the intent to deprive the owner of his/her property permanently or for a period long enough to deprive the owner of its value and enjoyment
- You took the other person’s property, and you kept it for a certain period regardless of how long you held it
Grand theft by trick has almost similar crime elements as the grand theft by untruthful pretense, as you can see above. The difference is that in a grand theft by trick case, the property owner entrusts you only with property possession while with grand theft by untruthful pretense case, the property owner gives you both possession and ownership rights of the property.
Penalties for a Grand Theft Conviction in California
Grand theft is in the category of “wobbler offenses” in California which can attract a jail term or fines. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the case and the criminal history of the defendant, the prosecutor might choose to file grand theft crime as either a misdemeanor or a felony. If you’re found guilty of grand theft as a misdemeanor offense, you might face up to one year in the county jail and a potential fine of up to $1000 depending on the case circumstances.
However, if the prosecutor files your case as a felony offense, you might face up to three years in the county jail or felony probation with a jail term of up to one year and a fine of up to $10,000. Further, if the felony offense involved the theft of a firearm, you’ll be facing a potential sentence of sixteen months, two or three years in the California state prison.
Grand Theft Penalty Enhancements
Grand theft conviction might also carry several other sentencing enhancements if charged as a felony offense. Depending on the total value of the stolen property, the defendant might face additional penalty enhancement in his/her sentence.
A sentencing enhancement is the necessary additional consecutive time usually attached to certain conviction cases depending on the circumstances involved during the offense. Below are the potential sentence enhancements for grand theft as a felony involving properties with a high value:
- An additional one-year jail sentence if the property value exceeds $65,000
- Additional two years jail sentence if the value of the property exceeds $200,000
- If the property value was worth more than $1,300,000, the defendant gets an additional three years sentence in the state prison
- The defendant gets an additional four years jail sentence if the property is worth more than 3,200,000
To determine the value of the property stolen for appropriate sentencing enhancement to attach to the grand theft conviction, the court will add together the value of all properties stolen under a common plan or scheme. Beware that, if you’re found guilty of more than one act of grand theft on the same person, you might receive a conviction and sentence for each of the acts.
Legal Defenses for California Grand Theft
Depending on the specific circumstances surrounding your case, with a knowledgeable and skilled criminal defense attorney, you can come up with a variety of legal defenses against grand theft. Every grand theft crime is unique, but legal defenses are common. Below are the most commonly used legal arguments for grand theft in California:
a. Lack of Intent
The main element of grand theft in almost every form of the crime is intent. The defendant should not be guilty of grand theft crime if he/she did not have intentions of stealing the said property or money. With an experienced attorney, you can convince the jury that you were absent-minded or you made a mistake when you took the other person's property. In that case, you should not be held guilty of grand theft.
For instance, when you’re making agricultural products delivery for an employer, and you mistakenly or absent-mindedly drive back home with more than $950 worth of the agricultural products still in your car. In such a scenario, you should not be guilty for violation of the California Penal Code Section 487 on grand theft because you had no intention of keeping the employer’s property.
You should not be guilty of grand theft crime if the property owner had a consent that you’re taking his/her property. However, if there was a condition/stipulation for the agreement in the manner in which you should handle or use the property, and you use it differently out of the scope of the consent/agreement, you should be held guilty for violation of Penal Code 487.
c. A Claim of Right to Ownership
If you had a reasonable and honest belief that the property you took belongs to you, you should not be held guilty for grand theft. A claim of right to ownership of a property is a common and successful criminal defense technique for theft crimes, including grand theft. This form of defense is applicable as long as your criminal defense attorney can prove to the jury that you had a good faith belief that the property belonged to you even if your belief turns out to be wrong later.
Note that your criminal defense attorney cannot be able to use this defense technique if you tried to conceal that you took another person's property when the offense occurred or after the discovery that you stole the property. You’ll also not be allowed to use this grand theft criminal defense method if the property you allegedly stole is illegal under California law, for example, illegal drugs like cocaine.
d. False Accusations/Allegations
Several innocent people get a conviction for grand theft crime due to false accusations and allegations of grand theft offenses such as embezzlement. Sometimes a business deal can go sour when there is no favorable agreement, and this often leads to false accusations. The use of this technique is a potential legal defense that is helpful if you’ve got a reliable criminal defense attorney by your side for legal representation.
Not all grand theft arrests make you guilty of the offense. Your prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt all elements of the grand theft crime for you to be held guilty for violation of Penal Code Section 487.
Offenses Related to Grand Theft Crime
There are other similar related offenses that the jury might choose to charge alongside violation of Penal Code 487 PC grand theft. Below are some of these associated offenses:
i. Petty Theft
The legal definition of petty theft is almost similar to that of grand theft. The defendant is guilty for violation of Penal Code Section 488 PC petty theft if the value of the property stolen is worth less than $950. In contrast, in grand theft, the defendant is guilty if the property stolen exceeds $950 in terms of value. Petty theft is a misdemeanor offense that can attract a fine of up to $1000, six months in the county jail, or both.
Robbery occurs when you take another person’s personal property against their will by use of fear or intimidation. You might face charges for violation of both Penal Code Section 487 PC grand theft and Penal Code Section 211 PC for robbery if you used fear to take another person property whose value exceeds $950. Robbery is a felony offense under California law, which can attract two to six years imprisonment, depending on the circumstances of the case. Just like any other criminal offenses, you must find a criminal defense attorney to review your case elements if you want to protect your future and freedom.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Not every grand theft arrest necessarily means a conviction. Contact a reliable criminal defense attorney immediately after an arrest of any form of grand theft crime for legal representation. We invite you to contact Darwish Law to discuss your grand theft case elements with our experienced team of criminal defense attorneys. Call us at 714-887-4810 to schedule an appointment if you are in Santa Ana.