Grand Theft is the unlawful taking of someone's property that is valued at $950 or more. If you face a Grand Theft conviction, it could have personal and professional consequences. The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney is a premium law firm that handles all cases relating to Grand Theft in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas.
Overview of Grand Theft
The California Penal Code 487 covers theft offenses that do not qualify as Petty Theft but fall under the Grand Theft category. Under Penal Code 487, taking of money, personal or real property, or labor that exceeds $950 from the rightful owner qualifies as Grand Theft. Under subdivision (b) of the Grand Theft statute, Grand Theft may also be committed by:
- Taking of domestic fowls and other farm crops such as olives, avocados, deciduous fruits, vegetables, artichokes, and citrus whose value exceeds $250. When establishing the value of domestic fowls and farm crops stolen, the evidence is needed to prove that at the day when the theft took place, the items were valued at more than $250.
- Taking of fish, mollusks, shellfish, crustaceans, algae, and other aquaculture products, which are worth more than $250 from a research or a commercial operation that produces the product.
- A servant, employee, or agent who takes from his/her principal money, labor, or property worth more than $950 or more over a 12-month consecutive period.
- Taking of property directly from its rightful owner.
- Taking of either an automobile or a firearm, such as a gun, from the owner.
In many cases, people commit Grand Theft through shoplifting items that exceed $950. This is very common in high-end luxury stores where a person shoplifts a few items, yet they may result in Grand Theft. For example, a person may visit a high-end department store and shoplift some clothing items. If the loss prevention personnel arrest the shoplifter, the shoplifter may be puzzled to learn that the value of the few items taken may be well over $1000. In this case, they may face Grand Theft charges even if he/she only stole a few items because the value of the items exceeded $950.
If the theft involves an automobile or firearm, the value does not have to reach $950 to qualify for Grand Theft. For example, if a person steals an automobile from a junkyard and sells it for $500, he/she may still face Grand Theft charges even if the property had a value of less than $950. This is because the theft involved an automobile, and this automatically makes it a Grand Theft.
For a prosecutor to prove that you are guilty of Grand Theft, he/she has to prove that you committed theft and that the property you stole exceeds $950 value. Some examples of cases that qualify as Grand Theft include: stealing jewelry worth $950 or more from jewelry stores, stealing mobile devices or computers, and stealing a wallet from a woman's purse that is physically touching the rightful owner.
Types of Grand Theft
There are several ways of committing a Grand Theft offense. However, all of these methods have one thing in common; the property stolen exceeds $950. A defendant may face charges for Grand Theft by larceny, Grand Theft by false pretense, Grand Theft by trick, and Grand Theft by embezzlement.
For a defendant to face Grand Theft by larceny charges, the prosecutor has to prove that:
- The defendant took another person's property
- He/she took the property without the consent of the owner
- When the defendant seized the property, he/she intended to keep it away from the owner
- The defendant moved or kept the property
- The value of the property was more than $950, the property was directly taken away from the rightful owner, or the property was an automobile or a gun
For the prosecutor to charge you with Grand Theft by pretense, he/she will have to prove the following:
- You intentionally and knowingly deceived the property owner through fraudulent representation or false pretense
- You deceived the property owner with the intention of persuading him/her to let you take ownership or possession of the property
- The property owner allowed you to have his property as they relied on the false pretense and persuasion
- The property in question has a value that exceeds $950
If a prosecutor charges you with Grand Theft by false pretense, he/she has to meet some special evidence requirements. The special evidence requirements exist only for Grand Theft by false pretense. California law recognizes that it is very easy for people to accuse others of Grand Theft by false pretense even when it did not take place. For instance, a person may enter into a business deal, hence giving property to another person. After handing over the property, he/she may then have second thoughts and accuse the other person of having used false pretense to acquire the property. Therefore, for proof of false pretense, the following evidence should be present:
- A false token or false writing - this may be a fake document such as a fake check that the defendant may have used to persuade the property owner to give the property
- Writing that outlines the false pretense - the writing should be signed by the defendant
- Testimony from at least two witnesses supporting the fact that the defendant did use fake pretense to acquire property from the owner
- Testimony from one witness and also additional evidence
To prove Grand Theft by embezzlement, the prosecutor has to prove that:
- The property owner entrusted his/her property to the defendant
- The owner entrusted the property to the defendant as he/she had trust in the defendant
- The defendant fraudulently used or converted the property entrusted to him/her for personal benefit
- The defendant intended to deprive the rightful property owner of its use
- The property in question is valued at more than $950
Grand Theft may also be through trick if the following elements are present:
- The defendant took property that he/she knew belonged to another individual
- The defendant used deceit and fraud to make the property owner consent to the defendant's possession of the property
- On obtaining the property, the defendant had the intention to keep the property away from the rightful owner permanently
- The defendant kept the property for a certain period after taking it from the owner
- The owner did not intend to transfer the property to the defendant
- The property is worth more than $950
Grand Theft by trick is similar to Grand Theft by false pretense in many ways. However, there is one main difference. For Grand Theft by pretense, the property owner lets the defendant have both the possession and ownership of the property. For instance, the property owner may give the defendant the formal title of the asset. With Grand Theft by trick, the property owner lets the defendant take only the possession of the property and does not intend to give property ownership to the defendant.
Penalties for Grand Theft
Under the California law, Grand Theft is a wobbler, meaning that the prosecutor has the discretion to charge you either with felony or misdemeanor. The prosecutor considers several factors, such as:
- The criminal history of the individual charged with Grand Theft; the prosecutor will particularly consider whether the defendant had faced similar charges before
- How the alleged theft was carried out; the prosecutor will find out whether there was violence or threat of violence to the victims
- The total value of the property that is allegedly stolen by the defendant
If you face Grand Theft charges as a misdemeanor, you may face up to one year in county jail. If you face Grand Theft charges as a felony, you may face felony probation and up to one year of county jail time. You may also face sixteen months, two years, or three years of jail time in county jail. The charges would be different if the theft involved a firearm.
Grand Theft Firearm Penalties
If you are accused of Grand Theft that involves a firearm, you will face a felony charge, as there is no misdemeanor charge option in this case. Grand Theft firearm is covered under Penal Code 487 (d) (2). Before the November 2014 passage of the voter initiative, Proposition 47, any firearm theft in California qualified as Grand Theft. However, after the passing of the proposition, firearm theft only qualifies as Grand Theft under the following circumstances:
- The firearm or firearms stolen must have a total value of at least $950
- The defendant has a prior criminal conviction for serious felonies such as murder, rape, or sexual abuse of a child less than fourteen years of age. In addition, if the defendant has a prior conviction of California sex crime that requires him/her to register under California's Sex Registration Act, any firearm theft he/she commits will be Grand Theft.
If firearm theft does not meet the above two conditions, it may qualify as a Petty Theft but not Grand Theft.
As a felony offense under California law, firearm Grand Theft may have up to sixteen months, two, or three years in California state prison. The felony may also attract fines of up to $10,000. Grand Theft firearm is a serious crime, and once convicted, it may seem like there is no way out.
However, with the right criminal defense lawyer, there are possible legal defenses for Grand Theft firearm. You may argue that you did not intend to steal the firearm, for instance. If you did not have the intent to steal, you might not face Grand Theft firearm charges or any other theft charges. It is rare for people to accidentally walk away with firearms that do not belong to them. However, it may happen; for instance, you may be checking out guns at gun show or a sporting goods store only to forget and accidentally walk away with a gun. You may also have been supplying guns for your employer only to accidentally drive home with guns worth more than $950 in your vehicle. Under such scenarios, your criminal defense attorney may prove your innocence.
You may also affirm that the firearm actually belonged to you or that you thought you were the rightful owner of the firearm. Under the "claim of right" defense, you cannot face Grand Theft charges if you are the actual owner of the firearm. The claim of right defense is also applicable if you acted in good faith belief that you were the owner of the gun. If you believed that the owner had given the gun to you and your attorney can prove this, you could be free from Grand Theft charges.
In your defense, the attorney may also prove that the firearm is worth less than $950, and its theft does not qualify as Grand Theft. At times, the prosecutors and the police officers may inflate the value of the firearm for a Grand Theft conviction. For instance, the stolen firearm may be an antique whose value is not common. At times, the gun may be old, and prosecutors may not be sure of the value it would fetch while new. Theft of a firearm valued at less than $950 is Petty Theft, and the associated charges are much lower than the charges for Grand Theft.
You may also argue that you were falsely accused and you did not steal the firearm in question. It is common to face false accusations of firearm theft or any other type of theft. Often, the false accusation is from relatives, friends, business colleagues, or ex-lovers. These people may be motivated by revenge or resentment and decide to accuse you falsely.
Grand Theft Auto
California Penal Code Section 487 (d) (1) defines Grand Theft Auto as intentionally taking away a motor vehicle that belongs to someone else. Upon stealing a vehicle, you will face not only Grand Theft Auto charges but also additional charges for Theft and Unlawful Taking or Driving of a Vehicle, which also goes by the name joyriding under California's Vehicle Code Section 10851.
The difference between Grand Theft Auto and joyriding revolves around the length of time you intend to stay with the vehicle. You may face Grand Theft charge under Penal Code 487 (d) (1) PC if you intend to keep the vehicle permanently or for a substantial period.
If you intended to take the vehicle for a short spin and then return it to the owner, you might face joyriding charges under vehicle code 10851 VC.
For the prosecutor to prove Grand Theft Auto by larceny, he/she will have to prove that you took another person's vehicle without his or her permission. As you took the car, you intended to deprive the owner of it permanently. If not to keep it permanently, you intended to take it away from the owner for a substantial period and deprive the owner of a substantial portion of the value of enjoying his/her vehicle.
Also, you must have moved the vehicle no matter how short the distance and you must have stayed with it even for just a short while. Apart from larceny, other ways of taking possession of a vehicle include trick, false pretenses, and embezzlement. Using false pretenses, you may convince a vehicle owner to turn the possession and ownership of the vehicle to you. You may use a trick to make the owner turn possession of the vehicle to you. Through embezzlement, you may take a car entrusted to you by the owner due to the trust that exists between you and the vehicle owner.
Grand Theft Auto is charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. The level of your punishment will depend on your credit history and the facts that surround the case. In most cases, however, auto theft is a felony. You may face sixteen months, two years, or three years in jail or a fine of up to $10,000 or both. Proposition 47, passed on November 4, 2014, helps reduce the penalties for auto theft if the value of the vehicle does not exceed $950. For a vehicle worth less than $950, the offense is a misdemeanor.
You may get an addition of one year to your sentence if the vehicle was worth more than sixty-five thousand dollars ($65,000). If the vehicle is worth more than two hundred thousand dollars ($200,000), two years may be added to your sentence.
Grand Theft Penalty Enhancements
In addition to the regular penalties for Grand Theft, you may receive additional penalties and a consecutive prison sentence if you face felony Grand Theft charges. This mainly happens if the property value was particularly high. Some enhancements for felony Grand Theft charges include:
- If the property was more than sixty-five thousand dollars ($65,000), you might get a one-year sentence
- For property worth more than two hundred thousand dollars ($200,000), you may get an additional two years in prison.
- You may get three years enhancement if the property stolen is worth more than one million three hundred dollars ($1,300,000).
- For property worth more than three million two hundred thousand dollars ($ 3,200,000), you may get an additional four years to your prison time.
When assessing the value of property stolen for enhancement, the court will consolidate all the items stolen under a common plan or scheme and use their value to determine the applicable enhancement option.
Multiple Counts of Grand Theft in the Same Case
What are the consequences if you commit multiple acts of Grand Theft against the same person, such as an employer? You may be charged with more than one count of Grand Theft after accusations of multiple acts of theft. However, if the multiple acts of Grand Theft were all under the same plan or scheme, you can only face charges for one Grand Theft.
For example, you may allegedly steal from your employer three times on different occasions. In such a case, a prosecutor may charge you with three counts of California Grand Theft. However, your criminal defense attorney may argue that you had an overall plan to steal from your employer any time you had the opportunity. The attorney may proceed to argue that the three thefts were all part of the overall plan to steal from your employer. Through this argument, an attorney may be able to reduce your charges and your overall sentence from three counts to one.
Consent in Grand Theft Cases
Apart from lack of intent, false accusation, and claim of right, consent is also a possible defense in a Grand Theft case. You are not guilty of the crime of Grand Theft if a property owner had consented to you having the property. Consent is also applicable for Grand Theft firearm and Grand Theft Auto. However, the use of the property must fall within the limits of the consent. For instance, if you agree with a property owner that the property should be used in a certain manner and for a particular purpose, you must confine your property usage to the consent. If you use the property in a different manner or for a different purpose, you may no longer be able to defend yourself on the ground of consent.
It is important to seek representation from an experienced criminal defense attorney if you are facing Grand Theft charges. You should reach out to the attorney as soon as possible after your arrest. Many people who face theft charges are innocent - any person can get distracted or confused and walk out of a store with an item without paying. If this is the case for you, you may face Grand Theft charges, even if you had no intention of committing the crime. At The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney, we can handle your Grand Theft charges. Our experienced attorneys will argue your case to reduce your charges or dismiss the false accusations of Grand Theft. You do not have to fight this legal battle alone. Contact us at 310-564-2606 and speak to one of our attorneys. We will be delighted to walk with you throughout the trial process.