To prove that a defendant is guilty of theft, the State must prove that:
1. The defendant took possession of property owned by someone else;
2. The defendant took the property without the owner’s consent;
3. When the defendant took the property he or she intended to deprive the owner of it permanently or to remove it from the owner’s possession for so extended a period of time that the owner would be deprived of a major portion of the value or enjoyment of the property
4. The defendant moved the property, even a small distance, and kept it for any period of time, however brief.
Under the California Penal Code theft is divided into two degrees, the first of which is termed grand theft; the second, petty theft. The latter charge involves a less serious crime. The level of the felony classification and punishment for theft depends on the value of the property taken. For example, California law classifies a theft as petty with a value of $950 or less, whereas grand theft involves property with a value exceeding $950. Petty theft represents the more frequently charged property crime as it includes shoplifting or retail theft, based on the frequency of incidents of petty thefts the California law contains a range of penalties and penalty enhancements to reflect the wide of range of conduct involved.
Most petty thefts are charged as misdemeanors if the theft is a result of shoplifting and the offender has no prior criminal record, or if the value of the stolen property is $950 or less. A misdemeanor conviction for petty theft is punishable by up to six months in the county jail, a fine of no more than $1,000, or both. (Cal. Pen. Code, § 490.) If the property taken has a value of $50 or less, the offense may be charged as an infraction if the offender has had no prior theft convictions. A petty theft infraction is punishable by a fine of no more than $250.
Under California law, the penalty for petty theft is enhanced for what the law classifies as habitual offenders. Offenders can face a felony conviction for petty theft if his or her criminal record includes three or more theft-related convictions involving a term of imprisonment. (Cal. Pen. Code, § 666.)
There are a number of potential defenses to theft charges in California, which often center on the offender’s intent or knowledge. One of the most common defense tactics is the argument that, at the time the offense occurred, the defendant had a good-faith belief that he or she owned the property or was legally entitled to possess it. Further, a defendant may raise a defense as to the value of the property particularly where this fact is relevant to the offence classification. This can be a crucial defense if there is reasonable doubt as to whether the property alleged to have been taken is close to the $950 petty theft/grand theft threshold.
If the prosecutor does not believe there is enough evidence to rebut these defenses in order to prove the defendant’s guilt within a reasonable doubt at trial, the most likely outcome is that the case will be dropped, or charges against the defendant will be reduced without a trial.
Regardless of whether or not the case proceeds to trial, the seriousness of a California petty theft charge requires the assistance of a skilled and committed California criminal lawyer who knows every legal argument when defending clients.
If you have been arrested for the crime of petty theft in the Visalia, California area, contact an expert criminal lawyer as soon as possible to protect your legal rights.
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