Theft Crimes Lawyer in Vista and San Diego:
Shoplifting, Carjacking, Embezzlement & More
I am Vista and San Diego theft attorney Peter M. Liss. I understand that people who have been accused of taking something that does not belong to them may be in a wide variety of life situations. That’s why I make it a point to hear my clients stories as soon as they sit down to discuss the case during our first consultation. I know some people are wrongly accused, some people have been victimized by illegal search and seizure or other rights violations, and some people steal because they are in a desperate financial situation and don’t know what else to do. Once we’ve discussed your unique circumstances, I can work with you to determine the best course of action for your situation, whether that means fighting the charges, negotiating a plea bargain or seeking alternative sentencing such as a diversion program.
I have defended hundreds of individuals just like you who have been arrested and charged with theft offenses ranging from petty theft to robbery. I have over 35 years of experience fighting these types of charges and guarantee all of my clients will receive top quality representation at affordable rates.
About Theft Crimes in California
Theft is one of the most common crimes, not just in San Diego or California, but worldwide. But not all forms of theft are the same. After all, shoplifting a package of diapers is nowhere near the same as carjacking someone driving a Lamborghini. This is why there are many ways theft crimes may be charged in California, some with fairly minor penalties, others that could even result in life imprisonment under the state’s three strikes law. In almost all theft cases, a person who is convicted will be required to pay restitution to the victim.
If you have any questions about specific charges in your case, it’s best to speak with your theft crime defense lawyer. These are some common forms of theft in San Diego County:
Easily the most commonly occurring form of theft in California, shoplifting involves entering a business during standard operating hours with the intent to steal less than $950 worth of merchandise. Whether the defendant is accused of leaving the store with merchandise or simply attempting to steal, the prosecution must be able to prove that they intended to steal the merchandise when they entered the store. If someone did leave a store without paying for an item, the prosecution must be able to show it was purposeful, not an accident -like when someone forgets to scan an item at a self-checkout.
Because it can be difficult to prove the intent to steal, the majority of cases that the average person would consider “shoplifting” are actually charged as petty theft because these charges are easier to prove since there is no need to prove the suspect’s intent to commit a crime upon entering the store.
Shoplifting is usually a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and $1,000 in fines. If the defendant has a prior conviction for a serious crime such as a sex offense on his record though, it can be a felony, punishable by up to 3 years in jail and $10,000 in fines. When the merchandise was valued at under $50, the prosecution may instead file the charges as an infraction, punishable by only a fine.
When less than $950 worth of goods has successfully been taken from any location, the offense can be charged as petty theft. This is the most commonly charged form of theft as it includes the majority of thefts from stores since, unlike shoplifting, this offense does not require the prosecution to prove the defendant’s intent, though they must still prove the suspect purposefully took the items without intending to return it.
This criminal charge is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail and $1,000 in fines. Like shoplifting, a top San Diego theft crimes lawyer can sometimes convince the prosecution to charge the crime as an infraction if the value of stolen goods was particularly low. Alternatively, those accused of petty theft can also go through a diversion program, which will help them keep the conviction off of their criminal record.
When more than $950 worth of goods has been stolen, the charges will be filed as grand theft. This crime can be filed as either a misdemeanor, punishable by 1 year in jail, or a felony, punishable by up to 3 years in prison. A theft crime defense attorney can be critical in convincing the prosecutor to file the charges as petty theft if the value of the stolen property is around the $950, or as misdemeanor grand theft if reducing he charges to petty theft is not a realistic option. Either way, this can help minimize the potential sentence faced by the defendant.
When it comes to crimes related to illegally taking someone else’s vehicle, people are most familiar with the charge of grand theft auto. Auto theft is largely the same as other forms of theft, meaning if the car was valued at less than $950, the suspect will only be charged with petty theft. Since most vehicles are worth more than $950 though, the majority of car theft charges are filed as grand theft.
Similarly, while the crime can be filed as a misdemeanor or felony, grand theft is usually charged as a felony. While the penalties for stealing a vehicle are the same as other theft charges, if the stolen automobile was a luxury car worth more than $65,000, 1 extra year of prison time may be added to the sentence, and for cars valued at over $200,000, suspects can face an extra 2 years of prison.
Because prosecutors must be able to show that a defendant intended to permanently deprive the owner of their vehicle in order to obtain a conviction for grand theft auto, these charges are more often filed as the unlawful driving or taking of a vehicle, commonly referred to as joyriding. This crime still carries the same felony penalties, but it is easier for the prosecutor to secure a conviction. Interestingly, theft of a bicycle is handled in largely the same way.
Carjacking and Car Robbery:
When a vehicle is taken directly from the driver by force or fear, the suspect will face carjacking and robbery charges. While these charges are usually charged together, a suspect can only be sentenced once for both crimes. Both carjacking and car robbery are punishable by up to nine years in prison at a base level, but if anyone was injured or a weapon was used, an additional 20 years could be added to the sentence.
Carjacking and robbery also count as violent crimes and strikes under California’s three strikes law, so anyone convicted of these crimes must serve at least 85% of their sentence before they are eligible for parole. If a defendant has a previous strike, their sentence may be doubled. If they have two previous strikes, they will face life imprisonment. These are particularly serious charges and anyone accused of these crime should immediately contact a San Diego theft crimes attorney.
When someone breaks into an unoccupied vehicle they may face car burglary charges, even if they do not steal the vehicle. In order for prosecutors to prove a car burglary charge, they must show that the vehicle was locked when the defendant entered it and that the defendant intended to take the car, steal something or commit a felony inside the car. This is a form of second degree burglary, which can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. As a misdemeanor, it’s punishable by 1 year in jail, but as a felony, it’s punishable by up to 3 years in prison.
What the public commonly refers to as breaking and entering, is actually charged as a number of different crimes in California, including burglary, robbery and trespassing. While a conviction for auto burglary requires the vehicle to be locked, this is not the case when it comes to burglary of a home or business, so even if the door was wide open, it can still be considered burglary if the suspect entered without permission. While the defendant didn’t actually need to break into a structure, the prosecution still must prove that she intended to commit or did commit a theft or any felony -including vandalism, battery or sexual assault.
The penalties for burglary vary based on the circumstances involved. Lower level burglaries can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor, punishable by up to 3 years as a felony or 1 year in jail as a misdemeanor. If a residence was broken into, including a garage or unoccupied home, the crime is a strike under the three strikes law and is a felony, punishable by up to 6 years in prison. If someone was in the home when the burglary took place, it will be considered a violent felony, even if the victim was never threatened or hurt.
Many people mistakenly use burglary and robbery interchangeably, but there are some major differences between these two crimes, though they are often charged together. Robbery involves the use of force or fear, whereas burglary doesn’t necessarily involve taking someone else’s property, but just entering a property with the intent to commit a felony or steal something. If, during the theft of property from someone’s home, the suspect threatens or hurts the victim, then he can be charged with both burglary and robbery. Robbery charges can even be filed if the suspect only used force in an attempt to escape.
Robbery is always a violent felony and a strike under the three strikes law, meaning those convicted of this criminal charge will have to serve at least 85% of their sentence before being eligible for parole. At its most basic, robbery can carry a sentence of up to 5 years in prison, but if a weapon was used or the victim suffered great bodily injury, the penalty will be increased. If a gun was used, an extra 10 years, 20 years or life sentence could be added to the standard sentence under California’s 10-20-Life law.
When someone illegally enters another person’s property and then denies the owner their property rights by refusing to leave, vandalizing the property or doing something of a similar nature, this is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a fine of $1,000. In some cases, a San Diego criminal defense lawyer can have the charges reduced to an infraction, punishable by only a fine.
A more serious form of trespassing is called aggravated trespassing. This occurs when someone illegally enters another person’s property less than 30 days after making a threat against the property owner, the resident, a neighbor or an employee working on the property. This criminal offense can be filed as a misdemeanor or felony, punishable by up to 1 year in jail as a misdemeanor or 3 years in prison as a felony. Those charged with aggravated trespassing also often face robbery, burglary, domestic violence, stalking, burglary and assault charges.
When theft is committed through the use of deception or false claims, it is considered fraud. This crime can be committed in many ways, and some of the most common forms of fraud include insurance, welfare, healthcare, real estate, worker’s compensation, fake charitable fundraisers and credit cards. Fraud doesn’t always involve financial gain, but can also be committed for purposes of obtaining benefits one would not otherwise have, such as committing fraud to park in handicapped parking spaces. Fraud is often charged in conjunction with other crimes, such as embezzlement, money laundering, conspiracy, identity theft, forgery, counterfeiting and other white collar crimes.
While the severity of fraud charges will vary drastically based on the specific circumstances involved, it is often charged as a felony and those convicted may face years or even decades in prison, especially if they face many charges, which is common. This criminal offense often results in additional consequences as well since it is considered a crime of moral turpitude. This means that anyone convicted may lose any professional licenses they hold, rendering them no longer able to practice law, medicine, etc.
Embezzlement is a specific type of theft that involves someone taking property from someone who entrusted them to care for it. In California, this is frequently committed by employees and, thus, often referred to as employee theft. At its most basic, embezzlement may be filed as a misdemeanor or felony, punishable by 1 year in county jail, if charged as a misdemeanor, or 3 years in prison, if filed as a felony. Sentence enhancements may be added though if the amount taken was very high though. Like fraud, embezzlement is almost always considered a crime of moral turpitude and those convicted will lose any professional licenses they may hold.
Other Theft Crimes in Vista:
There are many other common types of theft as well. Examples include possessing or receiving stolen property, dining and dashing and looting. In fact, even keeping money you found on the ground can be considered theft (though you’re unlikely to be charged for this). If you have any question about specific theft charges in California, it is best to speak with a criminal defense attorney.
A San Diego Theft Attorney Can Help You Fight the Charges
There are many strong defenses to theft crimes, but you should always talk to a lawyer before attempting to defend yourself. If you attempt to say that the statute of limitations on a crime have expired, for example, you can’t later go back and claim that you didn’t know you stole the item.
Common Defenses to Theft Crimes
Common defenses to theft charges involve false accusations, the idea that theft was unintentional, the item was yours to begin with, insufficient evidence, expired statute of limitations, accusations that the police found the item through illegal search and seizure or that the police stopped you without cause.In some cases, your best criminal defense may be to work out a repayment plan with the victim in exchange for their agreement to not press charges. Because the District Attorney always has the option to press charges even against the victim’s wishes though, this is something that is best handled with a San Diego theft defense attorney rather than doing it yourself.
Reducing the Charges is Often the Best Option
In other situations, the best solution may be to have your lawyer convince the D.A. to reduce the number or severity of the charges. This is often a good option if you are charged with grand theft, but the value of stolen goods is near the $950 threshold, meaning it could easily be reduced to petty theft charges. Having a top San Diego theft attorney on your side can often mean the difference between a maximum 6 months jail sentence and a maximum of 3 years in prison.
Why Hire Me as Your San Diego Theft Lawyer
I am a graduate of the top-rated University of California, Berkeley Law School with a proven track record of successes in defending clients accused of all types of theft crimes ranging from misdemeanor shoplifting all the way to felony robberies with potential life sentences under the three strikes law. My reviews on AVVO, Yelp and Google are a testament to my high level of dedication to my clients. If you have been accused of taking anything that was not your rightful property, I can help you.
How I can Help Defend You
I strive to keep my clients updated on their case and advise them about the best actions to take after they have been accused. I can argue for lower bail, fight to reduce the charges against you, and either negotiate for a plea bargain or fight for you in trial, and will always attempt to minimize the sentencing or secure alternative sentencing whenever possible. When it will help your defense, I will investigate your case, collecting evidence on your behalf, interviewing witnesses and building the strongest possible defense strategy for your given situation.
If you are facing any kind of theft charge, please call me any time, day or night, to schedule a free initial consultation at my North County office located across the street from the Vista jail and courthouse or my more central San Diego office just off the I-5 in Carmel Valley.