A theft conviction can disqualify you from employment and you may also face civil liability. Theft is a crime of moral aptitude and can effect immigration eligibility.
Theft Offenses in the State of California
There was a time when most people considered a conviction for petty theft or shoplifting to be a minor offense, hardly worth mentioning on a job application or during an interview. Today, however, even a minor theft offense can result in serious judicial and non-judicial consequences if the arrest results in a conviction. In the State of California there are a number of crimes that can be classified as theft crimes. Understanding the various theft offenses and the corresponding penalties is important if you have been charged with one. Only an experienced California criminal defense attorney can provide you with case specific advice; however, a broad overview of theft crimes in California is a good place to start.
Most people assume they know the definition of the word “theft”; however, under California law the definition of “theft” is likely much broader than you realize. California Penal Code Section 484(a) defines “theft” as anyone who does any of the following:
“…feloniously steal, take, carry, lead, or drive away the personal property of another, or who shall fraudulently appropriate property which has been entrusted to him or her, or who shall knowingly and designedly, by any false or fraudulent representation or pretense, defraud any other person of money, labor or real or personal property, or who causes or procures others to report falsely of his or her wealth or mercantile character and by thus imposing upon any person, obtains credit and thereby fraudulently gets or obtains possession of money, or property or obtains the labor or service of another.”
Petty Theft vs. Grand Theft
Clearly, not all thefts are created equal. Stealing a pack of gum, while falling within the definition of theft, is not usually viewed as the same as stealing someone’s vehicle. As a general rule, if the fair market value of the item(s) stolen is less than $950 the crime is considered “petty theft.” Shoplifting is the most common type of petty theft; however, other situations that are commonly charged as petty theft include:
- Borrowing with no intention to return – convincing someone to “loan” you their cell phone when you really have no intention of returning it to the rightful owner
- Price switching – changing the price tag on something in a store in an attempt to pay less for the item
- Stealing from an employer – taking items from work that you have not been given the authority to take and not returning them
When the fair market value exceeds $950 it is considered grand theft. In addition, if the item taken is a vehicle or a firearm, regardless of the fair market value, it is charged as grand theft. Also, if the item is taken directly off the person of the rightful owner, such as in a mugging, the crime is grand theft no matter what the value of the item stolen is.
Other Theft Crimes
While most people think of theft as involving the outright taking of property from the owner, there are a number of other offenses that are also categorized as theft crimes, including, but not limited to:
- Embezzlement – failing to ring up a sale at your job and pocketing the money could be charged as embezzlement
- Credit card fraud – using a card you know to be stolen, or that is not yours and for which you have no authority to use, could be credit card fraud
- Identify theft – using someone else’s identifying information to obtain credit, employment, or housing, for example, is identify theft
- Insurance fraud – claiming a break-in when there wasn’t one in order to get the proceeds from an insurance policy, for example
- Selling stolen property – selling an item to a pawnshop when you knew, or should have known, the item was stolen may be charged as “selling or receiving stolen property”
- Failing to return rented or leased property – keeping a rental car way past the due date to return the car can be a crime
Penalties for Theft Crimes
Petty theft is a misdemeanor in California and carries up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. You may also be sentenced to informal probation and/or ordered to pay restitution for the stolen item(s). Grand theft is usually a “wobbler” in California, meaning it can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor at the prosecutor’s discretion. The misdemeanor grand theft offense carries up to one year in jail while the felony grand theft offense carries a potential term of imprisonment of 16 months, two years, or three years. If you have one or more prior convictions for theft offenses, however, a petty theft offense may be elevated to a felony theft charge with the corresponding penalties assessed if convicted. Finally, for high value items, your sentence may be enhanced if the value of the item stolen was particularly high, meaning it was valued at over $65,000.
Often, the non-judicial penalties that stem from a theft conviction are just as troublesome as the actual sentence imposed by the judge. On many job applications, disclosing a theft conviction can automatically disqualify the applicant from employment. In addition, you may also face civil liability for the theft offense apart from any sentence you receive as a result of the criminal prosecution. Finally, a theft conviction is considered a crime of “moral turpitude” which can affect your immigration eligibility and possibly disqualify you from obtaining residency or citizenship in the United States.
More About the Crime of Theft in California
For more information about theft in the State of California, the following related resources are available for your review:
If you have been charged with a theft crime in the State of California it is imperative that you take the charges seriously, even if you were only charged with petty theft. Any conviction for a theft crime can have far-reaching and long lasting negative consequences. Consult with an experienced California criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.