Theft is one of the most common crimes in California. Theft charges range from shoplifting an item worth a few dollars to embezzling millions of dollars. The charges for a theft crime depend, in part, on the value of the property taken. Property valued at more than $950, or the theft of an automobile or firearm are all considered grand theft, which can result in felony criminal charges.
California Grand Theft Laws
Grand theft in California falls under a number of penal codes, including California PC 487 (grand theft); PC 487(d)(1) (grand theft auto); PC 487(d)(2) (grand theft firearm). In most cases, grand theft is theft of money, labor, real or personal property with a value exceeding $950.
Grand Theft of Property
The value to the person taking the property or the street value of the property is not important when determining whether the value is over $950. For example, someone sees a watch at a store with a price tag of $1,000. However, they saw the same watch at another store for only $300. If they take the watch without paying for it, then the owner could claim the value of the watch is $1,000 which would be considered grand theft. If the individual had taken the watch from the discounted store, they may only be charged with petty theft.
California also has a provision for the theft of avocados, olives, citrus fruits, nuts, artichokes, farm crops, or domestic chickens. Theft of these items, which may also be known as poaching, does not need to total a value of $950. Instead, if the wholesale value of these farm products is over $250, then taking these products could be considered grand theft. California PC 487(b)(1).
Grand theft also includes the theft of labor. By agreeing to hire a laborer to help with a project, and failing to pay them, if the agreed-upon payment was over $950, then the individual who did not pay the laborer could be charged with grand theft of labor.
If property is taken directly from another person, it may not matter the value of the property taken. Under California PC 487(c), property taken from the person of another is considered grand theft. This includes taking something like a hat off a person's head, taking something from a purse, or taking something out of another person's pocket.
In some cases, the value of the property, money, or labor does not need to amount to a single instance of theft over $950. Instead, it could involve taking small amounts of property or money at a time, as long as it adds up to a value of over $950. “Where the money, labor, or real or personal property is taken by a servant, agent, or employee from his or her principal or employer and aggregates $950 or more in any 12 consecutive month period,” is considered grand theft under California PC 487(b)(3).
Grand Theft Firearm
If theft involves a firearm, such as a shotgun, rifle, or pistol, the charge is not dependent on the value of the gun. Taking a firearm of any value is considered grand theft under California PC 487(d)(2).
Grand Theft Auto
An automobile is the most valuable product many people own. Most automobile thefts would automatically fall under the category of grand theft because the value is over $950. However, even taking a beat up old car worth $500 is grand theft under California PC 487(d)(1).
Grand theft auto may also be charged in addition to auto burglary. It is a separate crime to enter a car to commit theft. This could involve breaking into a car to steal a radio, taking a backpack left in the car, or taking the car itself. Auto burglary is a felony offense under California PC 459.
In many cases, an individual takes a car for a short period of time, never intending to keep or sell the vehicle. This is also known as joy-riding. Joy-riding is generally a lesser offense than grand theft auto and is usually charged as a misdemeanor. Any person who drives or takes a vehicle without the consent of the owner with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive the owner of possession can face up to one year in jail, and a fine of up to $5,000. California Vehicle Code 10851.
Grand Theft Penalties
The penalties involved in grand theft depend on a number of factors, including the individual's criminal history, the value of the property taken, and if the theft involved any other criminal violations. Grand theft can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Misdemeanor charges generally carry a maximum penalty of up to one year in county jail. However, felony grand theft charges may result in up to 3 years in jail.
Felony charges also carry long-term repercussions. Felons may be prohibited from owning a firearm in the future, and have restrictions on their voting rights or their right to serve in public office. It can also make it much more difficult to find employment in the future, especially if the felony involved charges of theft.
Defenses to Grand Theft Charges
There may be a number of defenses available to charges of grand theft. Possible defenses may include a case of mistaken identity, lack of intent to deprive the owner of the property, the defendant was the rightful owner of the property, or showing the property taken had a value of less than $950. In some cases, the prosecutor may simply not have enough evidence to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Talk to your East Bay criminal defense attorney about your case. They will investigate what happened, review the prosecution's evidence, and identify the possible defenses available to your case.
East Bay Criminal Defense Attorney
Lynn Gorelick has more than 30 years of criminal defense experience and understands the penalties involved in grand theft, including vehicle theft charges. She understands how to approach the individual facts of each case for the greatest chance of success, to keep her clients out of jail. Whether you are arrested in Oakland, Richmond or anywhere else in Contra Costa or Alameda Counties, contact Lynn Gorelick understands you do not have to plead guilty just because you were arrested.