How to Properly Handle Theft Charges
What are Theft Charges?
In California, theft is defined as the intent to permanently deprive the owner of their property.
There are multiple ways to be charged with a theft crime – larceny, false pretenses, and embezzlement are a few.
The offense level depends on the value of the stolen property and an offender’s prior criminal history.
The Severity of Theft Charges
California classifies theft offenses according to the value of the property taken. The property’s value determines the severity of the crime and whether it will be treated as a felony or misdemeanor.
An example of a misdemeanor theft charge would be petty theft.
An example felony theft charge would be grand theft.
If goods are stolen, California law measures the stolen property’s value by the reasonable and fair market value of the property.
If services are stolen, the value of the services is determined according to the contract price for those services or, if there is no contract price, according to the reasonable and going wages for the services.
In addition to the value of the property or services stolen, whether the offender has any prior convictions determines whether the theft crime charged will be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.
Steps in a Theft Case
The typical amount of time for shoplifting or petty theft types of cases is three to six months, but it could be up to a year before it goes to trial for a more serious theft case.
Here are the typical steps once you are arrested and charged:
- Arraignment – this is when you formally appear before a judge and told the charges filed against you. During the arraignment, you’re asked to enter your plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. You can change your plea later.
- Pre-Trial Hearings or Appearances – these are opportunities for the court to “check-in” with you, your attorney, the district attorney, and the progress of the case. Pre-trial hearings let the court monitor the case’s progress.
- Motions – Depending on your case and the circumstances around your arrest and criminal charge, various legal motions are able to be brought before the court at this time. Some examples are motions to suppress evidence, motions to suppress statements, etc.
- “Readiness” Hearing – This can be described as a “larger” pre-trial hearing. It is when both parties let the court know their “readiness” for trial. This can occur anywhere from several days to several weeks before the beginning of the trial.
- Trial – if you have not resolved your case by now, you can decide whether you want a trial by jury, where a jury decides your case, or a bench trial, where a judge will decide your case
This is obviously a generalized list of steps, and some courts call these “steps” different things, but this is basically what you can expect if you take your case to trial.
If you decide to accept a plea deal from the prosecutor, the case will end prior to trial and maybe even prior to motions.
Given the time and the complexities of the criminal justice system, it is highly advised to retain a criminal defense attorney or a theft attorney that can aid in your representation.
Common Defenses to a Theft Charge
Just because you have been arrested and charged with a theft crime does not mean that you are automatically guilty.
Besides the fact that the district attorney must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, there are many defenses your attorney can argue on your behalf.
- Lack of intent – you did not intend to take the property permanently
- Right of possession – you had the right to possess the property
- Consent – you were allowed (had consent) to take the property
- False theft allegations