According to California PC 487, you commit the offense of grand theft by taking another person’s goods with a value of $950 or more. The property can be tangible, such as a car or land. The property can also be intangible such as a patent. You can be liable for the offense if you obtain money from another person under pretense or make a false promise. In California, the prosecution charges the offense as a felony or misdemeanor. The offense is punishable by a maximum of three years in prison. The prosecution will charge you with petty theft if the goods you steal are worth $950 or less. You can also present various defenses to fight the charges. However, you should enlist a criminal lawyer's services to assist you in fighting these charges.

If you or your loved one is facing grand theft charges in California, you need to enlist the services of a well-experienced criminal attorney. At Koenig Law Office, we have represented numerous defendants charged with the offense in Bakersfield. We are well versed with the California justice system, and our team is committed to giving you first-rate legal representation. Contact us today if you have you been accused of committing grand theft in Bakersfield.

Understanding PC 487, Grand Theft, Charges In California

In California, the prosecution must prove some aspects of grand theft for the court to charge you with the offense. The crime’s elements are the key facts the prosecution must prove. The court cannot find you guilty of grand theft if the prosecution does not prove these key elements.

The most common types of the crime in California include:

  • Grand theft through larceny.
  • Grand theft through pretense.
  • Grand theft through trickery.
  • Grand theft through embezzlement

Grand Theft Through Larceny

According to California Penal Code Section 487, you commit grand theft by larceny when you take a person’s tangible goods without their permission.  The court can find you guilty of the crime if you possess another person’s property and the person did not permit you to possess it. The court can also find you liable for the crime if you intended to steal a person’s property permanently. Or take the property for an extended period for the owner to miss a large part of its enjoyment or value. The court can also find you liable for the offense even if you took the goods for a short distance or period.

For Example:

Christine and Suzie are friends. Suzie is a hairstylist and owns a state-of-the-art dryer. However, Christine is always envious of the dryer and wishes she could have one of her own. One night, when Suzie is out partying, Christine sneaks into Suzie’s room and takes the drier, and hides it in her room.  However, Christine intends to take back the drier sometime in the future. If caught, the court could charge Christine with grand theft through larceny since she took the drier without Suzie’s permission. She further kept it for an extended period, thus denying its owner a large part of its enjoyment and value.

Remember, the court can also find you guilty of the offense if you shoplift. You can be liable for the offense if the property you shoplift is valued at $950 or more.

Grand Theft By Pretense

Pretense means acting in a misleading or deceitful manner to gain property or money.  The term "pretense" is synonymous with "assertion" or "representation.” The court can charge you with pretense if you make a misrepresentation with the intent to deceive a victim. Grand theft by pretense generally requires the victim to rely on the false representation and take action based on the false information you confer. For the court to charge you with the crime, you must have deceived the victim into taking an activity they would not otherwise have taken.

According to the law, “pretense” means you have an intention to deceive another person. Under the law, you must tell lies, claim as true something you are not sure of its authenticity, refuse to provide crucial information and make a commitment without the intention of fulfilling it for the court to find you guilty of theft by pretense.

Additionally, the court can find you liable for the offense if the complainant surrendered their property to you because they relied on your pretense.

For Example:

Your friend who owns a vehicle has a bank loan. You make a proposal to your friend to hand over the vehicle’s title in exchange for you making the loan payments. However, once your friend hands over the vehicle and its title, you borrow another loan using the title, and you do not make the loan payments as you had promised your friend. Eventually, the bank repossesses the vehicle.

In such a case, the prosecution can charge you with grand theft through false present because you made your friend hand over their property. Additionally, you made a false promise that you did not intend to honor. 

  • Evidence The Prosecution Must Present To Charge You With The Pretense

The prosecution has to prove specific elements unique to the crime of grand theft through pretense to convict you of the offense. The prosecution must present false writing like a false contract or check. The prosecutor needs to show you wrote or signed a contract and failed to honor the terms. They also need to present witness testimonies from two or more people or present one witness testimony and additional evidence that support the victim's claim.

The reason for these additional requirements is to protect an individual from false accusations. Unfortunately, it is common for people to sell or hand over their property and have doubts about the transaction. As such, they make false accusations of the buyer acquiring the property through pretense.

Grand Theft Through Trick

According to California law, grand theft through trick means you trick somebody into surrendering their property. The prosecution must prove you took the property, with the intention to deny the property’s owner of its use permanently. Or deny them a large portion of its enjoyment or value. Grand theft through trickery and grand theft through pretense are similar in many aspects. However, for the prosecution to find you guilty of grand theft by pretense, they must prove the owner of the property handed you both the ownership and possession of the goods. On the other hand, for grand theft through trickery, the prosecution needs only to prove the victim handed you the property but did not intend to grant its ownership.

For Example:

You need to repair your scooter, but you cannot find time due to your tight job schedule. You request your neighbor to drop it off at the mechanic for repair. However, once you hand over the scooter to your neighbor, she does not intend to hand it back to you. Instead, she moves with it to a different city. Once caught, the court can charge your neighbor with grand theft through trickery because you gave them the scooter’s possession but not its ownership.

Grand Theft Through Embezzlement

The court can also charge you with the offense of grand theft through embezzlement. The prosecution has to prove various elements to charge you with the crime. The prosecutor has to prove the owner entrusted you with the property, and you benefited yourself by fraudulently using the property, thanks to your position. The prosecution must also prove you intended to temporarily or permanently take the property from the owner.

According to the law, the court can find you guilty of the offense even if you intended to return the property.

Difference Between Grand Theft And Petty Theft

Petty theft is the illegal taking of property without the owner’s consent valued at less than $950. On the other hand, Grand theft is the unlawful taking of property valued at $950 or more to sell or use it. The law considers grand theft a more grievous crime of the two and is punishable by a longer jail sentence.

Previously, before the passage of Proposition 47, the court could charge you with the offense of grand theft even if the property’s value was less than $950 under certain circumstances. The court could charge you with grand theft if you stole a firearm, a vehicle, specific animals, or if you stole the property off a person’s clothing, body, or in a container that the person was carrying like a handbag.

The court will still charge you with grand theft if you commit the above crimes regardless of the property’s value if you have certain prior convictions. These convictions include a sex offender conviction which requires you to register on the sex offender registry, and other severe crime convictions, including child molestation, rape, murder, and other similar offenses.

Penalties For The Offense Of Grand Theft In California

In most cases, the court will charge grand theft as a wobbler. A wobbler means the prosecution can charge the offense of grand theft as a felony or misdemeanor. The prosecution has the discretion to charge the crime as either a misdemeanor or felony. However, they base their decision on various factors, including your criminal history and the case’s circumstances.

If the court charges the offense as a misdemeanor, the judge could sentence you to a maximum of one year in jail. If the court charges the offense as a felony, the judge could sentence you to felony probation and a jail term of up to a year. The judge can also sentence you to a sixteen months, two years, or three years sentence in jail. However, the judge can extend the jail term if you stole a firearm.

  • Penalties For Grand Theft Of A Firearm

Under California Penal Code sections 484, a person who steals a firearm will be subject to penalties for grand theft. The court always charges grand theft of a firearm as a felony in California.  The maximum sentence for a felony grand theft of a firearm is three years in prison. The court can also sentence you to sixteen months or two years in state prison.  The offense is a grievous felony. Therefore, the crime is a strike offense in California under the “three strikes” law.

  • Circumstances That Enhance The Penalty For Grand Theft

If the prosecution charges grand theft as a felony, the court can institute additional punishment. The court enhances the sentence if the property’s value you are accused of stealing is exceptionally high.  The court could add one year to your prison sentence if you stole property valued at $65,000 or more. The court could add two years to your sentence if the property you stole was valued at $200,000 or more. The prison sentence enhancement could be three years on top of your normal jail sentence if the property value was $1,300,000 or more. Finally, the court could add up to four years to your prison sentence if the value of the property was $3,200,000 or more. The court determines the property's value by summing up the total value of all the goods you stole during the crime.

What The Prosecution Must Prove To Charge You With Grand Theft In California

You can commit grand theft in California through four main ways. You can execute the crime through trickery, embezzlement, larceny, and pretense. The prosecution has to prove specific facts about these crimes beyond a reasonable doubt. For the court to find you liable for the offense, the prosecutor must prove certain elements unique to the type of grand theft the authorities accuse you of committing.

According to the law, it is critical to note that the jury is not obligated to agree on the type of grand theft the prosecution alleges you have committed. The jury only needs to agree you used any of the ways stipulated under the law to commit grand theft. However, the law requires the jury to agree on whether the crime qualifies as petty or grand theft.

Defenses You Can Present Against Grand Theft Charges In California

Fortunately, you can present various defenses against the charge of grand theft. However, you should enlist the services of a well-experienced criminal lawyer to represent you in court. Below are some of the defenses you can present against the charges of grand theft.

  1. Lack Of Intent

Intent is an essential element of a grand theft charge. To secure a conviction for grand theft, the prosecutor must prove you took the property of another person intending to deprive the owner of its value or use. You can state you took the property by mistake. Your attorney can argue that you took the property absentmindedly and did not intend to steal it. Your attorney can say you walked out of a store with merchandise, but you did not realize you had not paid for it until you were out the front door.

  1. You Had A Right To The Property

California is one of the few states that recognize a claim of right as a defense against the charge of grand theft. You can make a claim of right defense if you can show you have a right or title to the item. This is similar to the defense of the title, which is the right to possess an item. You can also state you took the item because you honestly thought it was yours.

According to the law,  you can state you believed the property was yours even if that belief was wrong. However, you cannot use this defense if you conceal the items either at the time of taking them or after being discovered.

  1. The Owner Gave You Consent

The defense of consent is sometimes called the “no force, no threat” defense. Under the consent defense, you can claim that you did not take another person’s property against their will. However, the defense of consent is not applicable in all situations. You cannot use consent as a defense if you stole the victim’s property. The defense also does not apply if the victim was not in a position to consent, for example, if the victim was asleep at the time of the alleged theft. You cannot use the defense if the victim was in a condition of unconsciousness or otherwise unaware that you are taking their property. Additionally, the court may find you liable for the offense if you use the property in a different manner from which the victim consented when they gave you their property.

  1. False Accusation

Unfortunately, the authorities may arrest you on a false accusation of committing grand theft. Maybe a business deal has gone wrong, and your partner decides to accuse you of grand theft out of spite falsely. In such a case, you can use false accusation as a defense and state your accuser does not have any proof to collaborate their accusations. 

Contact A Criminal Lawyer Near Me

Facing a grand theft charge in California can have devastating effects on your life. If the court finds you guilty of the offense, you could face prison time or hefty fines, affecting your professional and personal life. Therefore, it is critical to enlist the services of a criminal lawyer to help you fight these charges.

At Koenig Law Office, we have a wealth of experience representing clients who face grand theft charges. If you face grand theft charges in Bakersfield, CA, we are here to offer unparalleled legal assistance. Therefore, do not hesitate to contact us at 661-793-7222 to book an appointment.