San Diego Criminal Attorney Law Firm strives to defend clients of various charges. We have dedicated many years representing clients in matters of criminal defense. Part of the reason for our success in criminal defense is our personalized approach to each case we take on and the care we provide for each client. Rather than assigning clients an attorney with zero connection to them to represent them in court, San Diego Criminal Attorney makes sure that the assigned attorney is dedicated, knowledgeable, and well-acquainted with the client’s case. This attention to detail and dedication greatly contributes to the success rate of San Diego Criminal Attorney. Through this personalized approach to each client, we ensure that each client we represent is well-represented as a person rather than their case-file. One of the crimes that San Diego Criminal Attorney is experienced in representing is that of grand theft.

What Constitutes as Grand Theft?

Under California’s Penal Code 487, grand theft is the instance when someone unlawfully takes someone else’s property that is valued over $950. In order to indict someone of grand theft, the prosecutor must be able to prove that someone did every element of the crime.  Once someone is caught committing grand theft and every element of the crime has been proven, the verdict and the classification of the crime is considered a wobbler.

What is a Wobbler?

A wobbler is a case where the prosecution can decide on whether to charge the defendant with a misdemeanor or a felony. The factors that contribute to this decision include the defendant’s previous criminal record, the severity of the theft committed, the representation of the defendant, and the presentation of the legal defense from the defendant’s lawyer. The severity of the theft depends on the different kinds of grand theft that can be committed. The four types of grand theft are: by larceny, by false pretense, by trick, and by embezzlement.

  1. By Larceny

If one commits grand theft by larceny, one takes someone else’s property without the permission of the owner and keep it for enough time for the owner to feel deprived of it. This period of time can range from really brief to permanently. In this matter, it does not matter if one meant to keep the property for themselves forever or if they did intend to eventually return it to the rightful owner. If an item is over $950 in value, people who shoplift can also be charged with grand theft by larceny. Grand theft by larceny is the most common form of grand theft committed in California.

Example: Johnson needs a car and he sees Maxine’s car in her driveway. He knows where she keeps an extra set of keys and that she is out of the country for two weeks. Johnson uses her car without asking permission until he gets caught by Maxine. Johnson is guilty of grand theft by larceny even if he didn’t intend to steal her car forever.

  1. By False Pretense

In order to commit grand theft by false pretense, one must intentionally deceive someone with the intent of persuading them to allow you to take possession of their property. One can commit false pretense if they knowingly say untrue things, if they claim that something is true when there is no basis of it being true, if they are unable to provide information that they should be able to provide, or if they make promises with the intent of not keeping them. All these ways of committing false pretense are all accentuated with the intent of deception.

Evidence in Proving False Pretense in Court

One cannot be charged with grand theft by false pretense without specific evidence that proves the false pretense. The prosecution needs evidence such as fake documents and writing that the defendant either handwrote or signed that present and detail the false pretense. The testimony of at least two witnesses or the testimony of one witness along with other forms of evidence also acts as evidence that proves false pretense to the prosecution.

Example: Marley, at the suggestion of her fiancé Franklin, co-signs for him when he buys a restaurant. However, rather than actually fixing the restaurant, he takes out a loan using her name and runs away to Jamaica, leaving the payments to Marley who soon loses her house because of Franklin’s actions. Franklin is thus guilty of grand theft by false pretense because Marley has the cosigning documents as well as the bank statements that indicate his intention to deceive.

  1. By Trick

In order to be convicted of grand theft by trick, one must take possession of someone else’s property through the use of deceit or fraud. The difference between grand theft by trick and grand theft by false pretense is crucial: while grand theft by false pretense relies on the transferring of both possession and legal ownership of the property, grand theft by trick is when the defendant tricks the owner into transferring the physical possession but not legal ownership. In this case of trick, it is important for the owner to have no intention of giving up the legal ownership of the possession.

Example: Anthony allows his friend Archie to use his beach house during Archie’s vacation in Florida. During his stay in Florida, Archie poses as Anthony and rents the house out for a lot of money and continues to do this for a year. Archie is guilty of grand theft by trick because of his actions.

  1. By Embezzlement

In order for one to be convicted of grand theft by embezzlement, one must be trusted with the property by the owner and must fraudulently use it or take it for their own benefit, regardless of whether they were using the property temporarily or with the intent of permanence.

Example: Richard is the CEO of a large company. When planning a family vacation to the Maldives, he purposefully uses the company’s money to fund the trip despite it having nothing to do with business. Richard is guilty of grand theft by embezzlement because he exploited his position of power and inappropriately used the company money to personally benefit himself.

Jury’s Decisions on These Four Different Types

Should the prosecutor make the allegation that the defendant is guilty of more than one of these four types of ways of committing grand theft, the jury does not have to vote unanimously on the specifics of which to charge the defendant with so long as they agree that the defendant committed grand theft in at least one of the ways. The jury must also be unanimous on whether the defendant committed grand theft as outlined in the California Penal Code 487 or petty theft, which is elaborated on in California Penal Code 488. If the jury cannot agree unanimously that the defendant committed grand theft but can unanimously agree that the defendant did commit a theft, the defendant will be convicted of the less severe charge of petty theft instead.

What Distinguishes Grand Theft from Petty Theft?

The difference between petty theft and grand theft is the value of the property stolen. For someone to commit petty theft, they must unlawfully take a possession that is not theirs that is worth less than $950. At the same time, one can be charged with grand theft if they steal something that is worth than $950 and if they are either registered as a sex offender or have felony convictions that include convictions of rape, murder, child molestation, or violence-related offences.

What Happens When You’re Guilty as Charged?

In California, since the charge of grand theft in any form is a wobbler charge, one can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony. If the prosecution deems it a misdemeanor, the defendant serves up to one year in the local county jail and/or a fine not exceeding $1000. Should the prosecution rule it as a felony, the defendant either spends up to a year in the local county jail with felony probation or spends at least sixteen months to at most three years of imprisonment at the nearest county jail in addition to the possibility of a fine no greater than $10,000.

Grand Theft Firearm

If the defendant steals a firearm, the offense is always charged as a felony. In this case, there is no option for the charge to be reduced to a misdemeanor. The sentence for a charge of grand theft firearm is spending a time range of sixteen months to three years in the California state prison. Under California Penal Code 1192.7, grand theft firearm is considered a serious felony and, therefore, counts as a strike in the California Three Strikes Law. If one commits a serious felony three times, they are sentenced to spend 25 years to a life sentence in prison.

California's Three Strikes Law

Originally beginning in 1994, at first the Three Strikes Law in California required all defendants who have over one serious felony on their criminal record to spend double the amount of time that their sentences called for. Revisions were made for the Three Strikes Law in 2012 when people voted to pass Proposition 36, which called for third strike offenders to commit a serious or violent felony before being sentenced from 25 years to life as well as the ability for people under the third strike rulings from the original law to petition to reduce their time in jail to that of a second strike if they were eligible to do so under the new law. Under the changes brought about by Proposition 36, people who have committed serious felonies in the past do not have to spend 25 years to a life sentence in prison for committing misdemeanors. Under the original law, if the defendant’s first strike is a serious felony, it did not matter if the other two strikes were not serious felonies because they would still be sentenced according to the original law.

Further changes and amendments to the California Three Strikes Law are currently being discussed. The law still imposes a life in jail without hope for parole for some of the inmates with three strikes where it is not always warranted. California’s lawmakers began discussing in 2018 the possible constriction of when someone should be sentenced a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Should the new laws get voted on and passed, the only people who are convicted of a life sentence without the possibility of parole would be people whose third strike is committing a violent felony, committing a crime involving a firearm or sex, murder, child molestation, or rape. In this new law, should a person’s third strike be grand theft firearm, they would not have the opportunity for parole in their life sentence.

What Counts as a Strike Offense?

The California Penal Code details what counts as a strike offense in Section 1192.7. Strike offenses are charges of crimes that are serious or violent or both. Many of the crimes listed as a serious felony involve actions of assault and violence. Some of the crimes listed include: murder, rape, child molestation, bomb detonations, arson, burglary, bank robbery, and kidnapping. In the context of grand theft, the action of unlawfully stealing a firearm, also known as grand theft firearm, is also considered a serious felony and, thus, a strike offense. It is important to note that any attempt to commit any crime that is present in the lengthy list of serious and violent crimes that California Penal Code Section 1192.7 elaborates on also counts as a strike offense and as a serious or violent felony.

Penalty Enhancements

In addition to time spent in the local county jail, if the defendant is charged with grand theft as a felony, they can receive additional time in imprisonment depending on the value of the property that they stole. If the property is valued over $65,000, the prosecution adds one year to the sentence. The prosecution adds two years if the property is valued over $200,000. If the property is valued over $1,300,000, then the prosecution adds three years to the defendant’s sentence. Anything valued over $3,200,000, the prosecution adds four years.

Also, if the defendant has more than one offense on their criminal record, the prosecution will be less forgiving when deciding on the verdict.

Legal Defenses

If one is charged with grand theft, there are various ways to legally defend oneself against these charges. Four ways that the defendant can use as a legal defense should they pertain to the defendant are lack of intent, claim of right, consent, and false accusations.

  1. Lack of Intent

Intent is very important when the prosecution is considering the defendant’s case. If one does not have the intent to steal, they cannot be convicted of grand theft. If the defendant’s attorney can prove and convince the prosecution and the jury that the defendant stole the property unknowingly or accidentally, one may be acquitted of the charge of grand theft and its accompanying penalties because of the lack of intent.

  1. Claim of Right

Claim of right is something the defendant can claim if they had a reasonable and honest belief that the property they stole actually belonged to them. Claim of right only applies when the defendant has a belief of good faith that they had ownership over the property in question. In this case, claim of right applies regardless of whether or not the belief was incorrect or correct. However, this defense does not apply if the defendant deliberately tried to obscure any actions of taking the property during the theft or afterwards. It also does not apply for the possession of illegal items.

  1. Consent

If the owner of the property consented to the defendant’s use of the property, the defendant is not guilty of grand theft and cannot be charged with it. However, the defendant must take and use the items in the manner and for the purpose that matches the rightful owner's intent on how it is to be used while in the possession of the defendant. Any other way that deviates from the owner’s intent cannot use the matter of consent as a defense.

  1. False Accusations

Sadly, framing people and wrongfully accusing them of grand theft has happened before. If the attorney working with the defendant is able to convince the prosecution and the jury that the defendant was falsely accused of a crime they did not commit and that the defendant is actually innocent, then they will not be charged with grand theft.

Contacting a San Diego Grand Theft Attorney Near Me

If, after reading through this article, you have any questions or concerns concerning the various forms of grand theft or the legal defenses and potential repercussions involved in any charge of grand theft, contact our San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney now at 619-880-5474! We are here to help you in any legal matters or needs that you may have concerning charges of grand theft. If you are worried about costs, we offer free case evaluations and consultations before taking on your case as well as payment plans after we take on each case. So, if you are in San Diego and are wondering who to contact about any issues of grand theft convictions, look no further and contact us now!