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Theft is the unlawful taking of another’s property, without their consent, with the intent to steal that property. The laws in California make a distinction between petty theft and grand theft. The law on grand theft is codified in California Penal Code Section 487.
What is California Grand Theft?
Under Section 487 of the California Penal Code, grand theft is an unlawful taking in any of the following, with the intent to steal:
- Money, labor, or property with a value of over $950
- Farm products including domestic fowl and crops with a value of over $250
- Ocean and agricultural products taken from a research facility with a value of over $250
- Money, labor, or property taken by an employee from their direct employer over a 12 month period with an aggregate value of over $950
- Property taken from the person of another
- When the property taken is a car, firearm, horse, or any other farm animal, regardless of value
There are several ways that a person can commit grand theft. These include larceny, embezzlement, trick, and false pretenses. Larceny is the physical taking and carrying away of another’s property with the intent to steal it, like shoplifting or stealing something from someone’s front yard. Embezzlement the unlawful taking of something entrusted to a defendant, like using company money for personal expenses. Trick occurs when one person tricks someone into giving them possession, but not ownership of their property. For example, trick occurs when a person rents a car and then sells it. Finally, false pretenses occurs when someone tricks another into turning over both possession and ownership of property. There is theft by false pretenses when an art dealer tells a customer that the vase in her living room is a cheap reproduction and buys it from her for $10 when in fact the vase is a rare antique that is worth millions.
What are the penalties if convicted of California grand theft?
Depending on what is stolen and the circumstances surrounding the act, grand theft carries sentences that include both fines and jail time. Grand theft in California is a “wobbler offense,” meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on (1) the particular facts of the case and (2) the defendant’s criminal history.
If the grand theft is a misdemeanor, the defendant may be sentenced to up to one year in county jail. If convicted of a felony, the defendant may face up to three years in California State prison. Additionally, if the theft is of a firearm, it is an automatic felony and also counts as one strike on the defendant’s record.
Grand theft also carries several enhancements. A sentence enhancement is additional, consecutive time, attached to a conviction if there are specific circumstances involved. The enhancements for grand theft are:
- An additional one year if the value of the property taken exceeds $65,000
- An additional two years if the value of the property taken exceeds $200,000
- An additional three years if the value of the property taken exceeds $1,300,000, and
- An additional four years if the value of the property taken exceeds $3,200,000
What are California grand theft defenses?
A person who is charged with grand theft will not necessarily be convicted of the offense. First, the prosecution must prove every element of the offense. The most important element in grand theft is the intent to steal. Without intent to steal, there can be no grand theft. There are two main defenses to grand theft charges:
- Claim of right
A claim of right defense argues that the defendant sincerely believed that he or she was entitled to the property. If a person believes, right or wrong, that they have a right to the property, there is no intent to steal and therefore no grand theft. However, there are two limitations. The claim of right defense cannot be asserted if the defendant concealed the taking either at the time of the occurrence of after the taking had been discovered. The defense will similarly not be allowed if the property taken was illegal (drugs, guns, etc.)
If the owner of the property consented to the taking, there is no theft. However, there is a stipulation. If there was consent, the defendant must have acted within the scope of that consent. For example, if a defendant was loaned a car for work, but used it to go on a joyride on the weekend, there was no consent and there may be theft.
It is important to know that arguing that the defendant returned the stolen property is not a defense for grand theft.
Grand Theft Defense at the Johnson Criminal Law Group
The Orange County criminal defense attorney at the Johnson Criminal Law Group provides experienced, quality legal help to all those who have been charged with a crime. Everyone deserves the best defense possible, and our criminal defense attorneys are prepared to fight for you. Please contact our office today or send us a message online to speak to our Orange County criminal law attorney immediately.