Theft occurs when a person takes something that does not belong to them without the knowledge or consent of the rightful owner. The person that takes the object intending to deny the rightful owner the enjoyment of it. Grand theft is also a crime of taking something that does not belong to you, and its value is over $950, according to PEN 487 in the statute of California. When a person does this, they are guilty of a theft crime. This crime is severely punished in the state of California. A record of grand theft can be detrimental to the holder. If one is accused of his offense, it is essential to get the services of a criminal defense lawyer to fight for you. At The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, we are experienced in defending people facing grand theft allegations while ensuring a favorable outcome.
How the Law in California Defines Grand Theft
The law in California defines grand theft based on various facts or elements specific to the offense. For a person to be found guilty of the grand theft offense, there must be proof of every fact of the offense. The prosecutor is expected to prove beyond a doubt each element of the crime to get a conviction.
There are various ways a person can commit a grand theft offense. Depending on the type of offense, a person is being prosecuted on, the elements of the crime differ. Some of the various grand theft offenses are:
Grand Theft – Larceny
A person is guilty of larceny when they carry a tangible object belonging to another person physically from its current location to another. The law defines grand larceny as:
- When an individual takes possession of a property belonging to another;
- The person had no permission or consent to obtain the property from the owner;
- When the individual acquired the property, their intention was to:
- Deprive or deny the property owner of its use entirely, or
- Take the property from its owner for a lengthy period that would serve to deprive them of enjoying it significantly or
- Move the property to a different place. And also keep it away from the owner even for a short period.
Sometimes, cases in shoplifting have been prosecuted as grand larceny offenses. This happens when the value of the items stolen is over $950. Several celebrities have been in the limelight for shoplifting and have been charged with grand theft. This has helped bring the public to the possibility of shoplifting offenses being prosecuted as grand theft offenses.
Grand Theft through False Pretense
Grand theft can also be carried out through false pretense. This is as defined in PEN 532, where it makes it an offense to obtain goods or services from another person through deception. Legally, this offense is defined as:
- A person intentionally and knowingly deceived another person by telling lies or false pretense
- The lies were intended to influence the person into letting the defendant take possession or ownership of their items or property
- The victim believed your lies or false pretense by allowing you possession of their items or property
When a person is said to make false pretenses, it may not be easy to understand the concept. However, the law in California states that a person commits theft by lies or false pretense when:
- They intentionally set out to deceive the victim
- Do any of the below deeds
- Say things they know are falsehoods
- Through recklessness, they claim something to be true when in actual fact they have no credible facts to believe that to be so
- Fails to give details that they are obliged to give or
- Make promises that they do not intend to keep
For an individual to be found guilty of grand theft offense through the use of false pretenses, a victim must have handed over their property. This is because they relied on the defendant’s false statements to do so. This means the significant reason a person gave away their property was because of their reliance on your false pretense. However, this does not in any way indicate it was the sole reason the offense is committed.
Required Evidence for a Conviction of Grand Theft offense through False Pretense
When charges on grand theft through false pretense are leveled against you, the prosecution must present particular special evidence to get a conviction. Ideally, the prosecutor needs to present one of the below evidence to convince the court of your guilt of making false pretenses:
- A falsified token or writing. This is a kind of a document that is fake like a contract or a check
- A written piece of evidence that clearly shows false pretense and is handwritten or signed by you
- A minimum of two witnesses willing to testify against you or
- One witness ready to testify against you in addition to other evidence.
One may ask why the above requirements exist for grand theft false pretense cases along. The primary reason is that people easily get entangled in business dealings that require handing property over to another person. In the process, a person may change their minds and allege the other individual falsely of acquiring the property through false pretense.
Because of this possibility, the law is designed to protect individuals against such cases. They do so by requiring testimony from more than one person for a conviction of the offense.
Grand Theft Using Trick
This is the third kind of grand theft. The law defines this offense to have happened when:
- A person acquires property belonging to another person with full knowledge that it belongs to them
- And with this knowledge, a person uses deceit or fraud to have a property owner to release the property to them
- The person took the property with the intention of:
- Permanently depriving its owner of its use
- Taking it from its owner for a duration that is long enough to deprive them of the joy of the property
- The person kept the item or property away from the owner for a certain period and
- The owner of the property had no intention of transferring the property ownership to the individual
Grand theft using tricks is similar to that of using false pretense with one significant difference. Where false pretense is used, the victim allows the defendant to own and possess the object or property. This may, in some cases, mean issuing them with the formal property title.
On the other hand, grand theft using tricks is when a victim allows the defendant to take possession of a property but does not intend to transfer its ownership to the defendant.
When a person commits the crime of embezzlement, they can be prosecuted with grand theft charges in California. Various elements define grand theft through embezzlement according to the laws of California. These elements are:
- The defendant was trusted with the property by the property owner
- The property owner put the defendant in a trustworthy position regarding the said property
- The defendant fraudulently used or took the property for selfish gains
- The defendant intentionally planned to deny the property owner of it temporarily or permanently. This means that even when a defendant planned to hand over the property to the owner, eventually, they are still guilty of committing grand theft through embezzlement.
Of the four grand theft types discussed above, a prosecutor can allege that a defendant is guilty of grand theft in any of them. The jury, in this case, does not need to agree about the particular one the defendant violated. However, the only thing the jury needs to agree on is that the defendant took property belonging to another person unlawfully.
The jury, on the other hand, is expected to have a unanimous agreement as to if the defendant was guilty of violating PEN 488 on petty theft or PEN 487 grand theft. Sometimes the jury can't agree unanimously the defendant committed a grand theft offense. However, they may agree a theft was committed. In this case, the defendant will get a lesser charge conviction of petty theft as opposed to grand theft.
The Difference Between Grand Theft and Petty Theft in California
Legally, grand theft in PEN 487 is defined in a similar way as petty theft that involves shoplifting in California. However, the differing fact between these two offenses is the value of the goods or property stolen.
The law considers theft to be grand theft if the value of the property stolen is $950 or more. This, however, has not always been the case. Before passing of proposition 47 in 2014 November, an individual could be prosecuted for the offense even when the property value was below $950. This was only possible if the following were true:
- Items or property stolen had a firearm in them
- An automobile was included in the property stolen
- There was the inclusion of certain animals like sheep, horse or pig in the property stolen
- The items stolen were taken directly from the person. This means the items were taken directly from their body or any form of a container the owner had them in.
However, the penalties for grand theft apply to any thefts carried out in the above-discussed manners. This is irrespective of their value. This is applied when the defendant had a prior record or convictions such as:
- A conviction for a sex offense that required him or her to be registered as a sex offender in California
- A serious conviction of a felony such as child molestation, rape, murder, or sexual assault
If a car is taken from its owner and it is of low value (below $950), the theft will be prosecuted as a petty theft offense.
An employee can equally be prosecuted for this offense if they repeatedly take labor, money, personal items, among others, from their employer. However, the collective value of these items must exceed $950 within a 12-month duration.
Penalties for Grand Theft PEN 487
In many cases, a grand theft offense in California is charged as a wobbler offense. A person accused of grand theft can be prosecuted on felony or misdemeanor charges depending on the circumstances of the offense.
The prosecutor is left with the sole discretion to decide whether to prosecute as a felony or a misdemeanor. The prosecutor’s decision, however, is generally based on two aspects:
- The criminal background of the accused person
- Circumstances or facts around the case
When a person gets convicted of a misdemeanor grand theft, they are likely to be sentenced to county jail time of not more than twelve months.
When a person is convicted of a felony in grand theft, they are likely to face:
- A felony or formal probation with a county jail time not exceeding a year
- A possible county jail sentence of 16 months, or 24 months or 36 months, if the theft had no firearm taken as well
Penalties for Grand Theft of a Firearm
If a person steals a firearm, it is automatically grand theft and is described as a grand theft firearm. This kind of crime is always prosecuted as a felony with no option of a misdemeanor.
When a person gets convicted of the offense, the sentence is more severe. They risk serving a state prison jail time of six months, or 24 months, or 36 months. A crime in a grand theft firearm is considered to be more serious than any other kind of grand theft offenses. This is according to PEN 1192.7(c) that outlines what constitutes a serious felony offense. When convicted of this crime, it is a strike under the laws of three strikes in California.
Additionally, to the above-discussed penalties, when grand theft offenses are prosecuted as felony offenses, the defendant can get an extra and consecutive jail sentence. This happens when the value of the property stolen was significantly high.
The possible sentence enhancement when a person is convicted of an offense involving items of significantly high value are:
- An extra one-year jail sentence when the property value was over $65,000
- An additional two years in prison when the property stolen was valued at over $200,000
- When the property stolen had a value of more than $1,300,000, the defendant will get an additional three years to their sentence
- The defendant would get an extra four years if the value of the property stolen was over $3,200,000
The court sums together the value of each property stolen under the same scheme to get the total value of the items stolen for sentence enhancement.
When Multiple Grand Theft Counts are Committed
A defendant can commit multiple grand thefts acts against one person, in most cases, an employer. When a person is accused of carrying out multiple grand theft acts, they can be charged on the various offenses and receive sentencing for every charge. However, this differs if the various grand theft acts were part of a main scheme or plan. If all the offenses or acts were committed as one plan, the defendant is charged with a single offense of grand theft.
For instance, Lucy works in a sales and distribution company in Los Angeles. On three different occasions, she has stolen from her employer. The first time, she was trusted with money, and she took $1,500 and kept for herself, with the hope that her boss will not find out.
During the second incidence, she received products on behalf of her boss and peeked in the package. On seeing what was inside, she picked one item for herself valued at $1,200 and lied to her boss about the quantity received. On another occasion, she received different products, and like before, and she picked an item valued at $1,400 without her boss’s permission.
When it is discovered, her boss will report the theft to law enforcement units. The prosecution will decide to charge her with three different counts of grand theft because of the offenses. However, the defendant hires a criminal defense attorney who will come up with a particular strategy for her defense.
Lucy’s lawyer may argue that Lucy had a grand agenda to take from her employer every time she got an opportunity. Due to this, the three occurrences were all part of her grand plan. With this kind of an argument, the charges against Lucy may be reduced to one offense instead of three.
Possible Legal Defenses
When faced with grand theft charges, it is always best to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Based on various circumstances of the offense, your lawyer can come up with various legal defenses to fight the charges. Some of the defense strategies may include:
When a person had no intention to steal, they cannot receive a grand theft conviction. This means your criminal defense attorney should persuade the judge, prosecutor, or jury that you made an error. That you had no intention to steal and was absent-minded when they took the property. If the argument is convincing enough, you cannot be convicted of the offense of grand theft.
For instance, while making a delivery, you may accidentally drop an item worth $1,200 in your vehicle and drove with it without the intention to keep it. If this is the case, you cannot be accused of a grand theft offense.
Claim of Right
A defendant can have a reason to believe that they had a right to a property, and it belonged to them. If this is the case, one would not be found guilty of a grand theft offense. A claim of right strategy only works if the defendant reasonably believed the property belonged to them, and the reasons had merit irrespective of if the belief was true.
However, if the defendant attempts to cover up the act or hide the item when he or she was discovered, the defense strategy cannot work. If the items you believed belonged to you were illegal, such as illicit drugs, this defense strategy cannot be used in court for you.
In case the property owner gave you consent to take it, you cannot be found guilty of the offense. However, you must prove that you used the property according to the degree of the consent given. This means if the owner permitted you to make use of the item or property in a certain way, but you used it differently, this defense will not work.
There have been various reports of individuals falsely accused and framed for embezzlement in California. This has led to wrongful arrests and to some extent, convictions. Sometimes when a business transaction goes sour, the aggrieved party may accuse the other of grand theft by the use of false pretense. With your experienced lawyer, you can be able to show the court the truth and escape the severe penalties.
Related Grand Theft Offenses in California
Various offenses that are related or similar to grand theft offenses, and may be prosecuted alongside or in place of PEN 487 violations exist. These include:
Petty Theft – PEN 484 and 488
As earlier discussed, petty theft and grand theft definitions are similar, with the primary difference being on the value of the property taken. Petty theft offense is a lesser crime that has less severe penalties. If a person is accused of grand theft, through their lawyer, they may seek to have the charges dropped to those of petty theft. For instance, you may have stolen a painting that had been purchased many years back and had received no appraisal. If the value of the property at the time it was bought was less than $950, your lawyer could argue for your charges to be dropped to petty theft ones.
A conviction on petty theft offense is a misdemeanor. The penalties for this offense are affine not exceeding $1,000, and a county jail sentence not exceeding six months.
Petty Theft with a Prior – PEN 666
If a defendant has a prior record of theft, they are likely to face stiffer penalties if convicted of a petty theft offense. This may make your offense a wobbler meaning it can be prosecuted as either a felony or a misdemeanor.
Grand Theft Auto – PEN 487(d)(1)
If a person is accused of stealing a motor vehicle, the charges brought against them are those of a felony, and they carry stiffer penalties, unlike other grand theft offenses.
Robbery PEN 211
Robbery charges are raised when an individual uses force or fear to obtain property from another person without their consent. If a defendant is accused of robbery and the value of the property taken is more than $950, they can face charges for both robbery and grand theft.
Find a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
A conviction on a grand theft charge has severe consequences on an individual’s professional or personal life. Sometimes a person could be wrongly accused out of malice or revenge or because of a simple misunderstanding. Getting an experienced criminal defense attorney is essential to fight against these allegations and avoid a wrongful conviction. At the LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, we are experienced in defending our clients against these allegations. Get in touch with us today at 310-935-1675, and we will make an appointment to discuss your case.