Under California law, theft crimes cover a wide array of offenses. What they all share is all theft offenses involve taking the personal property of another without consent and with the intention to deprive the owner of their possessions.
Each different category of theft, however, differs both in its own particular definition and in the possible penalties that may arise from it. Theft crimes can fall into one or more of six categories, petty theft, burglary, grand theft, robbery, embezzlement, and receiving stolen property.
How is it Determined into Which Category Each Crime of Theft Falls?
If you have wrongfully taken someone else’s property which is valued at $950 or less, you have committed the crime of petty theft. Burglary is defined as entering a structure or vehicle with the intent to commit petty or grand theft. Grand theft is similar to petty theft, with the difference being the value of the property taken is $950 or greater. Grand theft also comes with its own subcategories, such as grand theft auto (stealing a car). Robbery is taking or intending to take the property of someone else within their immediate presence, using force or the threat of force. Embezzlement is when someone misuses or takes personal property that has been entrusted to them by someone else. The last type of theft is receiving stolen property. To be guilty of this offense, a person must buy, conceal, receive, or sell property they know to be stolen.
While a crime may fall neatly into one of these categories, they often fit more than one. For example, if you buy a gun you know to have been stolen, and then force someone to give you their car at gunpoint, you have committed the crimes of receiving stolen property, robbery, and grand theft auto.
How Serious is Each Category of Theft?
Petty theft is the least serious of the offenses and is always classified as a misdemeanor. Grand theft, burglary, receiving stolen property, and embezzlement are all wobbler crimes and can be charged as either felonies or misdemeanors, depending on the circumstances of the crime and any past criminal history of the accused. Robbery is the only one of these theft crimes that is always a felony.
Generally, for the five wobbler offenses, the deciding factor that determines if it is a misdemeanor or felony is whether the value of what was stolen exceeds $950. Past convictions for sex or violent crimes can also cause a theft to be charged as a felony.
What Can I Do if I am Charged with Theft?
The first step is to hire a lawyer. A charge of felony theft will impact your life in numerous ways, and a good attorney is your best chance at avoiding this. They may argue you lacked intent, genuinely thought you had a right to the property you allegedly stole, or any number of other defenses.
For any questions you may have, and for your best defense against a theft charge, call us now at (562) 462-9233.