With some of the worst droughts in years this winter, Southern California will be facing a dangerous fire season when summer temperatures peak in late August until early October. While most residents fear the prospect of fires spreading throughout San Diego County, a handful consider the havoc and danger of the fires to be a unique opportunity to steal from evacuated shops and homes. So what happens to those caught looting during an emergency and what makes looting different from an ordinary theft? Vista criminal lawyer Peter M. Liss explains.
Essentially, looting is any type of theft that occurs during an emergency. It’s generally looked down upon as it is considered to be a form of taking advantage of the public’s fear for your own gain. In California though, the charge is only marginally worse than other theft charges. That is, in petty theft looting cases, for example, you will face mostly the same penalties as you would for petty theft. The only difference is that looting carries a minimum sentence unlike other theft crimes. In petty crimes, the minimum sentence is 90 days. For grand theft or burglary, the minimum sentence is 180 days. The judge still has the option to waive the mandatory minimum sentences and order community service instead of jail, which is why you should always work with a top Vista criminal attorney.
There are a number of different defense strategies you can use to fight a looting charge. For example, if you looted a store for materials you needed to survive, your Vista criminal defense lawyers can argue that you were only doing what was necessary in a time of emergency. Additionally, because looting cases often occur during times of extreme chaos, mistaken identity is a common problem when it comes to identifying the person responsible for a crime. In cases involving San Diego’s notorious wildfires, it’s easy to see how a thick layer of smoke could impair someone’s ability to correctly identify the person who committed a crime.
Even if you are guilty and were even caught in the act though, a good Vista criminal defense attorney can still make a drastic difference in your case by negotiating a plea bargain, arguing that you did not steal more than $950, making the crime a petty theft, a misdemeanor. Alternatively, even grand theft can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony and your attorney may be able to ensure you are charged with a misdemeanor.
If you are accused of looting, or any form of theft, Vista criminal lawyer Peter M. Liss can help. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.
Creative Commons Image by Surian Soosay