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The term “petty theft” is often a misleading one, as it makes it sound like there may not be many repercussions if one is convicted. However, a conviction for petty theft in California can result in jail time, financial penalties, and a criminal record. If someone has a criminal record, it can impact their ability to pursue their career goals and have an impact on personal relationships.
When someone is accused of petty theft in California, the best way to ensure their rights are protected and that they can mount an aggressive defense is to secure the assistance of a criminal defense attorney who understands the long-term consequences of a conviction.
Understanding California’s Petty Theft Statutes
Petty theft is defined in California Penal Code §488 as any crime which does not fall under the definition of larceny and involves theft of property valued at $950 or less. This involves the crime of theft of any personal property which is valued over $50, which is considered an infraction. Once the property value exceeds $950, it is considered larceny.
Even though most petty theft crimes are charged as misdemeanor crimes, they may also be considered as wobblers. This means that if a defendant is being charged with petty theft and has a prior conviction for a theft-related crime, they may potentially face a felony charge.
Types of Petty Theft Crimes in California
There are three types of petty theft crimes which require a prosecutor to produce additional levels of proof in order to secure a conviction. These crimes depend on specific evidence and are often more difficult to prove than simple petty theft. They include:
- False Pretenses: This is when a defendant has deceived the owner of the property to allow them to take their property with a promise to return the property within a specific time period.
- Theft by Trick: This occurs when a person takes possession of someone’s property through deceptive methods or fraud. Typically, this would involve the property owner turning over ownership of the property to the defendant.
- Embezzlement: While this crime is typically considered a white-collar crime, someone can be guilty of embezzlement on a smaller scale, such as taking money from a petty cash fund with the intent of returning it.
Because of the broad nature of petty theft crimes, having a skilled criminal defense lawyer can help in avoiding more serious fines and potential jail time.
Petty Theft and Prior Crimes
Because petty theft is considered a wobbler, defendants must understand that prior crimes can impact their ability to mount a successful defense and avoid felony charges. One reason this is important is because of California’s three-strikes law.
Under the three strikes law, a person who is facing a petty theft crime that is charged as a felony could potentially face more serious jail time and larger fines.
Anyone who is facing a petty theft crime and has had a prior conviction for any crime should discuss the potential penalties with a criminal defense lawyer immediately. Not only could a defendant face jail time, but their future may be at risk because of a criminal record which could have been minimized if they had an aggressive council.
Defenses For Petty Theft Charges
Some of the potential defenses which a criminal defense lawyer may take advantage of include:
- Lack of intent: One of the easiest defenses is to show that a defendant had no intention of depriving an owner of property. The best way to demonstrate this is by turning the property in question over to the owner immediately upon being contacted by law enforcement.
- Entrapment: While difficult to prove, it may be possible to show that someone was tricked into stealing property.
- False allegation: In situations where there is a dispute between two people, one person may claim the other stole property from them for the sole purpose of getting them in trouble.
- Not at the scene of theft: In some cases, it may be possible to demonstrate a defendant was not at the scene of the theft at the time the property was removed. This is a defense when there are witnesses to the defendant’s lack of presence at the scene of the alleged crime.
In order to mount a successful defense of a petty theft charge, an attorney must be aware of all of the facts and the available evidence to properly defend a client.
Contact a California Criminal Defense Lawyer Immediately
Regardless of whether a defendant is facing a first-time offense or they potentially are facing a subsequent charge of petty theft, the stakes can be high. The damage a defendant can suffer to their reputation and their standing in the community can be devastating.
Should you find yourself facing a California petty theft charge, contact Dod Law, APC immediately by using our online contact form or by calling (619) 814-5110. Find out what we can do to help you avoid potential jail time for a petty theft crime in California.