Theft Crimes Lawyer in San Diego
I am Vista and San Diego theft attorney Peter M. Liss. I understand that people 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 are victims of illegal search and seizure or other rights violations, and some steal because they are in a desperate financial situation. 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 charges and guarantee that all my clients 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. There are many ways theft crimes may be charged in California, some with minor penalties, others that could even result in life imprisonment under the state’s three strikes law. In almost all theft cases, the convict must pay restitution to the victim.
Below are some of the most common types of theft in California, but if you have any questions about what specific charges may apply to your case, it’s best to speak with your theft crime defense lawyer.
Shoplifting Charges in San Diego
The most commonly occurring form of theft in California is shoplifting, which involves entering a business during standard operating hours with the intent to steal less than $950 worth of merchandise. The prosecution must prove they intended to steal the property when they entered the store. If someone left 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 challenging to prove the intent to steal, the majority of cases that the average person would consider “shoplifting” are charged as petty theft since this offense does not require the prosecution to prove the suspect’s intent 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. More severe sentences may apply in cases where the shoplifting was committed as part of an organized theft ring.
When less than $950 worth of goods has successfully been taken from any location, the offense can be charged as petty theft. Though shoplifting is the most common type of theft, petty theft is more commonly charged as it includes the majority of thefts from stores since it does not require the prosecution to prove the defendant’s intent. To secure a guilty conviction, the prosecution must still prove the suspect purposefully took the items.
This criminal charge is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail and $1,000 in fines. A top San Diego theft crimes lawyer can sometimes convince the prosecution to charge this larceny 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 their criminal record.
When more than $950 worth of goods are stolen, the charge will be grand theft, which can be 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 $950, or as misdemeanor grand theft if reducing the charges to petty theft is not a realistic option. Either way, this can help minimize the potential sentence faced by the defendant.
Most people are familiar with the charge of grand theft auto. Since most vehicles are worth more than $950, the majority of car theft charges are grand theft. While the crime can be a misdemeanor or felony, grand theft is usually charged as a felony. 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 vehicles valued at over $200,000, suspects can face an additional 2 years of prison.
Because prosecutors must show that a defendant intended to permanently deprive the owner of their vehicle 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, the theft of a bicycle is processed in essentially the same way.
Carjacking and Car Robbery
Suspects face carjacking and robbery charges when a vehicle is taken directly from the driver by force or fear. 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 9 years in prison, but if anyone was injured or a weapon was used, an additional 20 years could be added to the sentence.
Carjacking and robbery 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 becoming eligible for parole. If a defendant has a previous strike, their sentence may be doubled. If they have two prior strikes, they will face life imprisonment. These are particularly serious charges requiring an experienced 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. For prosecutors to prove a car burglary charge, they must show that the defendant targeted a locked vehicle and intended to take the car, steal something inside of it or commit a felony. This offense is a form of second-degree burglary, 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.
It is worth mentioning that theft of items outside of the car, such as catalytic converters, is not a form of auto burglary because they do not require entering the vehicle.
What the public commonly refers to as breaking and entering is actually charged as many different crimes in California, including burglary, robbery, and trespassing. In California, burglary does not necessarily involve theft, but instead occurs when someone enters another person’s property with the intent to commit either petty theft or a felony. The charges can still apply even if you never took anything from the property or committed another crime, as long as you had the intent to do so.
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 could 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.
Low-level burglaries can be charged as a felony, punishable by up to 3 years in prison, or a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in jail. If a residence, including a garage or unoccupied home, was broken into, the crime is a strike under the three strikes law, and a felony, punishable by up to 6 years in prison. If someone was in the home at the time, the burglary is a violent felony, even if the victim was never threatened or hurt.
It’s worth noting that even possessing burglary tools such as lockpicking kits can result in misdemeanor charges.
Robberies in California
Many people mistakenly use burglary and robbery interchangeably, but there are some significant differences between these two crimes. Robbery involves using 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 the suspect threatens or hurts the victim during the theft of property from someone’s home, 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 significant 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.
Trespassing and Aggravated Trespassing
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, which 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 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.
Common Forms of Fraud
When theft involves deception or false claims, it is considered fraud. This crime occurs in many ways, including insurance, welfare, healthcare, real estate, worker’s compensation, fake charitable fundraisers, unemployment, and credit cards. Fraud doesn’t always involve financial gain but can involve obtaining benefits one would not otherwise have, such as committing fraud to park in handicapped parking spaces. Fraud is usually a felony and sentences may be years, or even decades, long. Lengthy sentences are particularly common when there are multiple charges or charges for related crimes such as money laundering, conspiracy, identity theft, forgery, mail theft, counterfeiting and other white collar crimes, which is typical.
Embezzlement is a specific kind 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 apply if the amount taken was very high.
Other Theft Crimes in San Diego County
Many other types of theft take place in Vista and the rest of North County, including 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 questions about specific theft charges in California, speak with a criminal defense attorney.