The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm has been representing people charged with criminal offenses such as property crimes in the Los Angeles area. Some of the property crimes that we handle are burglary, arson, vandalism, trespassing, among others. The punishments for these crimes vary depending on different factors, as we will discuss further below.

Understanding Property Crimes in California

There are many different kinds of property crimes in California that you can be charged with. These offenses upon conviction carry devastating repercussions aside from hefty fines and incarceration. As earlier indicated, property crimes are charged as either a misdemeanor or felony offenses depending on various factors. Below, we discuss some prevalent property crimes found in California. They include:


If charged with theft, the crime is significant and carries severe repercussions, including damage to your reputation. If arrested for this crime, never take a guilty plea before consulting an attorney and understanding your options.

Burglary, as defined in PEN 459, is when one enters any type of structure, commercial or residential, intending to commit petty larceny, grand theft, or other felonies. With this offense, you must understand that force, threats, violence, or destruction does not have to be present for a guilty verdict. The focus, in this case, is the intention you had when you entered the structure in question.

A burglary charge is a wobbler in California. This means you can be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony burglary. The aspects of the felony and your criminal history determine how the offense is charged.

PEN 460 further categorizes the offense into a first and second-degree burglary. All these categories are wobbler, meaning the prosecutor decides on how to charge the crime.

Burglary in the First Degree

This type of theft is typically associated with residential dwellings. When you enter any structure meant for habitation to take property that is not yours, you face criminal charges. The law does not require the residence to be inhabited by people at the time of the crime. But as long as it was designed for that purpose, you can be convicted with first-degree burglary charges.

This offense is a felony crime that a conviction will see you sentenced to 2, 4, or 6 years of state imprisonment. For this offense, probation is not given unless it interests justice. Simply put, if convicted of this crime, you will be imprisoned, with a parole period offered. However, if there are mitigating factors, you may get a year of county imprisonment, after which you serve a formal probation period.

It is also imperative to know that when convicted of first-degree burglary, the offense earns a strike according to the Three-Strikes Law in California. This means that if you have two prior felony convictions receiving you a strike each time, a third one increases your sentence to between 25 years and life imprisonment.

Burglary in the Second Degree

This type of robbery involves the entering of any other dwelling as long as it is not residential to take something from there. Commercial burglary in California also falls under this category. If accused of it, you will be charged with either a felony or a misdemeanor.

A misdemeanor conviction, in this case, results in imprisonment at the county jail for not more than a year. If you are convicted on felony charges, you face state incarceration for 16 months or 2 or 3 years.

For a guilty verdict, the prosecutor must prove beyond reasonable doubt the various elements of the burglary offense. While prosecuting you on these allegations, the prosecutor may focus on the two main components of the burglary crime. These include:


Entry is the easiest of the factors for a prosecutor to prove. The law does not require much for a person to be said to have entered a dwelling. Forceful entry or threats are not required to confirm entry. Putting your hand on any part of the property or using a tool like a flashlight to illuminate through a door or window is enough to prove entry.

Your lawyer can challenge this element by proving your prints were not found at the premises, nor were you seen at the property. A defense of mistaken identity can also be used to determine that you were not at the premise, but another person was. If the prosecutor cannot prove your presence at the property, the case is dismissed on the basis that you never committed the burglary.


The other critical element in proving this crime is your intention. Proving intent is one of the hardest aspects for a prosecutor. For instance, if you enter a retail store and steal, the prosecutor must prove that your intention when entering the premises was to take the particular object. For you to be found guilty, the prosecutor must prove that you preconceived and planned to enter the store and steal.

Your lawyer can challenge this by claiming that you had no tools with you that are used in burglary such as pliers, crowbars, blowtorches, among others. When the prosecutor is unable to prove your intent, burglary charges against you are dropped, although you can be charged with a lesser offense.

Your lawyer can also use these elements as defense strategies, among others. With an experienced attorney, you can avoid wrongful convictions or steep penalties.


Vandalism, as outlined under PEN 594(a), is another prevalent property crime in California. This law was enacted to offer property owners protection against defacing, destruction, and damaging of their property. The severity of the charges depends on various aspects of the crime, how extensive the damages are, and the possibility of gang affiliation. A conviction on these charges can result in multiple forms of punishment, including juvenile detention, incarceration, fines, or other penalties.

When charged with defacing another person’s property, you can be found guilty of vandalism. If the damage caused is valued at $400 or over, you face a possible year of county imprisonment in addition to a fine not exceeding $10,000.

If you cause damages ranging between $400 and $10,000, you face a year in county jail and a fine of not more than $50,000. If the damage caused is below $400, you face a possibility of a year behind bars and a fine not above $1,000. In determining the suitable penalty for you, the court considers your criminal past. A repeat perpetrator receives steeper penalties compared to a first time offender.

Penalty Enhancements in Vandalism

Often, vandalism charges are accompanied by other allegations making the offense more dangerous. For instance, if you vandalize property belonging to a Jew and inscribe offensive words, a hate crime charge can be added to your vandalism charges. A conviction will result in enhanced penalties against you.

Similarly, if you are known to be a gang member, gang enhancement charges will be added. This will result in more extended jail time and heftier fines.

The penalties, if found guilty, are severe, let alone other consequences. Fighting against a conviction becomes your primary objective when charged with this offense. An experienced attorney will formulate various defenses in your favor. Your lawyer can argue that you were mistakenly identified as the offender.

Most perpetrators of vandalism hide their faces making it difficult to identify them. However, the victim or a witness can wrongly identify the defendant as the perpetrator. Your attorney can provide evidence that you were not at the scene of the crime when it occurred. Additionally, he or she can present witnesses to testify to your character or whereabouts. A successful argument on this basis can get the charges dismissed.

Falsehoods are common in criminal cases. Some people do it for revenge, while others on false assumptions. If you are a member of a gang or are known to hold certain feelings against a particular group of people in the community, when vandalism occurs, you may become the first suspect. Some people or the victim can falsely accuse you of seeking revenge due to your beliefs. If this is the case, your attorney with the use of evidence will prove your innocence and get the charges dropped.

Depending on the aspects of the crime and the evidence, various strategies are employed in your defense. With an experienced attorney, it is likely to get a more favorable outcome.

Grand Theft – PEN 487(a)

Grand theft is another common type of property theft in California. Grand theft involves personal or real property, money, or labor, whose value exceeds $950. However, you can be charged with this offense for particular assets irrespective of their value. For instance, if you steal a horse, a car, a firearm, farm produce like avocado, aquatic cultural properties like shellfish, and any property on a person, you are guilty of grand theft.

Consequences of Violating PEN 487(a)

Based on the law, if the value of the property you stole or took was below $950, the prosecutor can charge you with a misdemeanor. A conviction will result in six months of county imprisonment or less in addition to a fine, not over $1,000. If the value of the items taken is above $950, you will be charged with a felony whose penalty includes state imprisonment for no more than three years. If the charges against you are for stealing a firearm, you face possible one-year imprisonment in addition to a hefty fine not exceeding $5,000.

When faced with these allegations, your primary goal should be being exonerated from the charges or receiving a favorable punishment. This is achievable when you have an experienced attorney on your side. Your lawyer will study the case and formulate defenses suitable to the circumstances of the offense.

If the property you are accused of taking was yours, you can prove this to the court and have the charges dropped. The prosecutor must also show your intent to steal the item. Determining intent is challenging, and your attorney can argue you took the thing by mistake. This argument can result in you being charged with a lesser charge that attracts lower penalties.

Petty Theft – PEN 484

From its name, this property crime may seem less severe, yet this is not true. The law categorizes the taking of items belonging to another as petty theft if their value is below $950. This is typically the opposite of grand theft. However, some items may be valued at less than $950, but you will be charged with grand theft instead of petty theft. For instance, if you stole a gun whose value is $500, you will face grand theft charges, not petty theft.

Determining Petty Theft

For a prosecutor to get a conviction against you, he or she must prove two critical elements to the crime. These include:

  • That you did steal an item and

  • The item or property’s value was at $950 or below.

The law defines theft as the act of denying a person the use and enjoyment of their property or money permanently or temporarily. Additionally, the prosecutor is required to prove intent for a guilty verdict.

Most cases of shoplifting allegations are prosecuted under petty theft laws because of the value of the items taken. The prosecution needs to prove intent if you are to be convicted of the offense. For instance, if you entered a store and picked several items, and you accidentally forgot to pay for an item, you are not guilty of petty theft. Your lawyer can argue you were absent-minded and never planned to take the thing without paying.

Sometimes if accused of stealing an item yet it belonged to you, you are not guilty of petty theft. Additionally, if you received consent to take the item, you cannot be convicted of petty theft.

Penalties for Petty Theft

Although the name suggests a small crime, the consequences of the offense are severe. Typically, when convicted of petty theft, you can be sentenced to three years of misdemeanor probation with strict conditions. Alternatively, the judge can sentence you to county jail imprisonment for six months or less in addition to a fine of $1,000.

How severe the charge is and the circumstances of the offense dictate the penalties you receive. Your criminal background and the value of the item taken also contribute to your sentence.

Sometimes when it is your first offense, you can be sentenced to an alternative punishment. The judge can order you to do community service or counseling. This is often in addition to paying for the items stolen, and as a result, avoiding a jail sentence.

Trespassing – PEN 602(h)

California describes intrusion as a crime when a person enters another person’s property without their consent. There are many instances that trespassing can occur, but allegations of this offense can also result in misunderstandings. If accused of trespassing, seeking the help of an experienced criminal attorney is critical to avoiding wrongful convictions.

The law prohibits a person from entering into a land or a building belonging to someone else without their consent, or when you have no legal right to be there. In some places, signs forbidding trespassing are displayed, and if you disobey, you risk being charged with the offense. When accused of trespassing, it can be alleged that you damaged, destroyed, or removed or caused the removal, damage, or destruction of property. This may include marks, stakes, signs or fences, designed to show boundaries of the property.

You can also be charged with trespassing if you enter a property intending to cause destruction or interfere with activities going on. Additionally, if you enter another person’s property unlawfully and refuse to leave when asked, you face trespassing charges.

Being wrongly accused and charged with trespassing is not uncommon. Sometimes you can pass through a person’s property without intending to breach the law. This may still result in trespassing allegations against you as well. Regardless of why you are accused, it is critical to engage an attorney to fight the charges on your behalf.

If you had a legal right to be at the property, then you cannot be convicted of trespassing. Equally, if you had permission from someone with a legal right to the property before going there, you cannot be charged with this violation either. Another defense would be your lack of intending to cause harm.

If you did not know that passing through the property was prohibited when no signs indicating the same were present, this is also a valid defense. Depending on the aspects of the offense, your lawyer can formulate other strategies in your protection. Some of these may include your freedom to speech and assemble in protest as long as you were peaceful.

The trespassing law, however, is designed to protect the rights of property owners to live and carry out business on their property freely.

Arson – PEN 451

The crime of arson is destructive and often deadly. This makes it a severely punished offense in California. The crime, as defined under the law, is when you willfully and maliciously burn property belonging to another.

Under California law, many types of arsons are defined, and they involve accusations of extensive damage to property, injuries, and death. In most cases, this offense is prosecuted as a felony in California. The penalties, if found guilty, are severe that include jail time, hefty fines as well as a requirement to register as an arsonist for life.

Sometimes, this offense can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor. This will depend on the aspects of the crime and your criminal history.

The law enforcement agencies in California treat arson without leniency, meaning they pursue the prosecution of the offender aggressively. As a result, if guilty, the penalties are substantial and extended. Because of this, it is critical when faced with these allegations to engage an experienced attorney to represent you.

Investigating Arson

Sometimes an investigation of this crime can take longer than expected because most of the evidence is lost when it burns. By use of high leveled chemical analysis, forensic investigators carry out their research to identify the cause and where the fire originated. When the reason for the arson is established, it becomes possible to conclude if the blaze was intentional or an accident.

If evidence is found connecting you to the crime or an eye witness comes forth and identifies you as being responsible, arson charges are filed against you. The way the crime was carried out also plays a significant role during investigations.

Under the Three-Strike Law in California, the crime of arson will earn you as the perpetrator a strike. This means, for any subsequent felony charges, your sentence is enhanced.

The penalties for arson will depend on the aspects of the crime. Where it happened, and the outcome of it contributes to the sentence as well. Multiple factors determine the severity of the crime and include:

  • Arson, which results in great bodily harm or injury, is prosecuted as a felony with state imprisonment as a penalty. The incarceration period can last for 5, 7, or 9 years, in addition to registering as an arsonist for life.

  • If the crime involved the burning of an inhabited dwelling or asset, it is prosecuted as a felony. The penalty, if guilty, includes state imprisonment for 3, 5, or 8 years and registration for life as an arsonist.

  • If accused of burning another structure or a forest, the penalty includes state imprisonment for 2, 4, or 6 years. Registering as an arsonist for life is also a requirement.

  • If charged with burning any property, even your own to commit insurance fraud, it is also a felony offense. A guilty verdict will see you sentenced to state incarceration for 16, 24, or 36 months. An arsonist registration for life is also a requirement.

  • If a person dies, in addition to arson charges, you will be charged with murder. Additionally, an arsonist registration is mandatory.

  • If you attempt to commit arson, you will still be punished with the penalties being 16 or 24 or 36 months of state imprisonment.

Arson Sentence Enhancements

Aside from the penalties discussed above, your sentence for this crime can be enhanced if:

  • You have a previous arson conviction,

  • The blaze significantly injured emergency personnel like a firefighter,

  • The number of people that suffered significant injuries was more than one, or

  • Many structures were burned as a result of the arson.

This crime can also be called aggravated arson, according to PEN 451.5, if you have one or more prior arson convictions in your record during the last ten years. This definition is also applicable if the crime resulted in the damages $5,650,000 or more, or where five or more dwellings are destroyed. When charged and convicted of aggravated arson, you risk state imprisonment for ten or more years. Parole, in this case, is only eligible when you have served ten years or more.

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Property crimes are taken seriously in California. This means their punishment is severe, depending on the particular property crime, the circumstances, aspect of the offense, and your criminal background. Your primary objective, when faced with these allegations, is to get the best possible outcome. Speaking to an experienced attorney from The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm will help you in your defense. Call us at 310-935-1675 to discuss your case in detail.