Whether San Diego is going through a state of emergency related to the coronavirus, wildfires, earthquakes, or mass protests, there are many cases where a handful of people may consider the havoc and danger of these situations to be the ideal opportunity to steal from shops and homes. So how are California’s looting laws different from ordinary theft laws, and what are the potential penalties? Here’s what you should know.
California Looting Laws
Essentially, looting is any theft that occurs during an emergency. A state of emergency can be enacted by the governor or the governing body of a city or county. While they are often put in place after a natural disaster, emergencies can also be declared after riots or pandemics.
Looting is generally looked down upon more than other forms of theft as it is considered to be taking advantage of the public’s fear and the natural chaos of a dangerous situation for your own gain. In California though, the charge is only marginally worse than other theft charges.
Is Looting a Felony?
The only difference between looting and standard theft charges is that looting penalties in California carry a minimum sentence, and other theft crimes don’t. So looting is only a felony if the underlying theft charge is also a felony, which means it involves felony-level burglary or grand theft offenses.
In petty theft looting cases, for example, defendants face mostly the same penalties as they would for petty theft, but the minimum jail sentence is 90 days, and the maximum sentence is six months. For grand theft, theft of a firearm, or burglary, looting involves a minimum sentence of 180 days in the county jail and a maximum sentence of up to three years in prison.
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 San Diego looting attorney.
Those charged with looting are often also charged with other related crimes, including unlawful assembly, failure to disperse, rioting, or disturbing the peace. A skilled defense attorney can help you fight all charges related to looting.
Defenses to California Looting Laws
There are many defense strategies you can use to fight a looting charge. For example, if you looted a store for materials you needed to survive, your looting defense lawyer could argue that you only did what was necessary during an 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 or during protests, it’s easy to see how a layer of smoke or tear gas could impair someone’s ability to correctly identify the person who committed a crime.
Even if you are guilty and caught in the act, a skilled criminal defense attorney can still make a drastic difference in your case by negotiating a plea bargain. One thing that could help if you’re being charged with grand theft is to argue that you did not steal more than $950, as this would mean the crime was petty theft and, therefore, a misdemeanor. Alternatively, 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, meaning you will face minimal penalties. Your defense attorney can also help to convince the judge to waive the mandatory sentence for a looting charge.
When to Call a San Diego Looting Lawyer
If you have any questions about the looting laws in California or have been accused of any form of theft, Peter M. Liss can help. Please contact his offices at (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.