Theft Offenses

Theft offenses cover a broad range of charges predominately contained within the Penal Code.  For example, Penal Code §484 is misdemeanor petty theft for the taking of property valued at less than four hundred dollars.  If the value is over four hundred dollars, the charge is grand theft under Penal Code§487.  Grand theft is a “wobbler” meaning it can be prosecuted as either a felony or a misdemeanor.

Other theft charges include burglaryPenal Code §459, entering a structure or vehicle with the specific intent to commit a theft therein, and robberyPenal Code §211, the taking of property from another person through the use of force, or threatened use of force.  Robbery is a “non-alternative felony” meaning it can only be charged as a felony, as is residential burglary.  However, other types of burglary, such as car burglary or burglary of a structure, i.e. a commercial store for example, are wobblers so that they can be made into misdemeanors.

It is extremely common for arresting officers for any type of wobbler theft offense to charge the accused with a felony.  This is not the end of the story however, as it is up to the discretion of the district attorney as to how to file the charge and whether or not to make it a felony.  Even if the DA files a wobbler as a felony, ultimately the judge can make the offense a misdemeanor under Penal Code §17(b)upon the making of an appropriate motion.

Advocating for the filing of misdemeanor charges in theft offenses is often the first line of defense.  Whether it be in front of a judge or to the district attorney, making a felony into a misdemeanor can have a dramatic impact on the outcome of a case.  This includes the difference between potential prison time, local jail, work furlough, or even no custody time at all.  Also felony convictions routinely require formal supervised probation whereas misdemeanors require summary unsupervised probation.  Finally, misdemeanor convictions are routinely expunged pursuant to Penal Code §1203.4 after successful completion of probation.

Petty thefts under Penal Code §484 may even be removed from the criminal justice system under the right circumstances.  For instance, Penal Code §1377 and 1378 allow for a “civil compromise” that if accepted by the parties involved may result in the dismissal of the case.  Additionally, allegations involving small theft amounts may be made into an infraction with the resulting sentence being limited to a mere fine.

There are a variety of other defenses that apply to theft cases most of which go to the “specific intent” required to prove theft or the mistaken identifications often made by private security personnel.  Of course every case is ultimately subject to its particular facts, but the quick investigation and timely intervention by defense counsel can often greatly mitigate the potential consequences or even resolve the matter short of a criminal conviction.

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