THE ELEMENTS OF A BASIC THEFT
In order for conduct to be a “theft”, a person must: (1) take possession of the property of another, (2) the taking must be without the owner’s consent; (3) the person must move the property any distance, and keep it for any period of time, and (4) the person must have intended, when they took possession of the property, to either permanently deprive the owner of the property, or deprive them of them the property for enough time as to diminish the owner’s value or enjoyment of the property.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF THEFT
In California, theft of $950 or less is Petty Theft, and theft of $951 or more is Grand Theft. Theft obtained by deception and false representations is Theft by Trick, and in some instances Theft by False Pretense. Theft by a person entrusted with the owner’s property is Embezzlement, and theft committed by force, or threat of force, is Robbery. Obtaining, purchasing, or hiding property one knows to be wrongfully taken is Receiving Stolen Property. Burglary is actually not a crime of theft; Burglary is merely entering a building with the intention of committing a crime inside; any crime.
PUNISHMENT FOR THEFT
Petty Theft can be punished with up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. However, Petty Theft can be punished as a felony with up to 3 years in prison if the person has certain prior criminal convictions. Grand Theft can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, with punishment of up to 3 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Theft by Trick, False Pretense, Embezzlement, and Receiving Stolen Property are all punished in accordance with the above principles depending on whether the value of the property is more or less than $950. Robbery is punishable with up to nine years in prison. Burglary can be misdemeanor or a felony, and can be punished with up to 6 years in prison.
DEFENSES TO THEFT
There are many defenses to theft. If the accused sincerely believed the property belonged to them it is not a theft (claim of ownership). If they truly just forgot to pay for the items it’s not a theft (lack of intent). If they had the owner’s permission to use the property in the manner that they did it’s not a theft (consent). If police simply have the wrong guy it’s not your theft (misidentification). Police violation of search and seizure laws could result in a dismissal of a theft case (pre-trial defenses). This list is not exhaustive of all the defenses that exist to theft.
Although not actually a defense, many thefts which are first offenses can receive something from the court called “Diversion”. Diversion is essentially when you ask the court for one chance to prove you deserve a dismissal of your case. The court may, but is not required to, grant Diversion. If the court permits Diversion, the court will tell the defendant what they must do and/or abstain from doing to successfully complete Diversion. If Diversion is completed, the court dismisses the case. If Diversion is failed, the Defendant can still have trial, plea bargain, or admit guilt.