In San Diego, there are a variety of separate criminal offenses that fall under the general category of “theft”. Depending on the circumstances, the type of item allegedly stolen, and the value of the item, theft can be a misdemeanor or a felony in San Diego. One question we frequently hear is “ What if I returned the property? Can I still be charged with theft?” The answer depends on the circumstances.
Most San Diego theft charges involve three simple elements:
- Taking possession of an item of value
- Without the permission of the owner or by “tricking” the owner
- With the intent to deprive the owner of the value of the property
Stealing a candy bar from the corner store is known as “petty theft”, so name because the value of the item is less than $950 and the item is not a vehicle or firearm. When the value of the item stolen is over $950, the item is a vehicle or firearm, or the item is taken directly off the rightful owner (such as in a mugging), the crime is grand theft.
There is another type of theft known as embezzlement. The difference between simple theft and embezzlement is that embezzlement involves the perpetrator having lawful possession of the item in question originally and then refusing to return the item. If, for example, you entrust your stock broker with funds that are intended to be used to make investments for you and the stock broker diverts those funds to a private account instead, that is embezzlement.
What happens if you return the item that was stolen? The answer to that question is very fact specific, meaning that you need to consult with an experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney for a specific answer; however, some general information might be helpful. Once the crime of theft has occurred, it cannot be “undone”. Therefore, simply returning something that you stole does not, necessarily, resolve the problem. The details surrounding the return of the item will be important. For example, did you return the item shortly after the alleged theft? If so, your attorney might be able to argue that you never had the requisite intent to deprive the owner of the property. On the other hand, if the item was only returned days later after a demand from the rightful owner, arguing that you never had the intent to keep the item would not likely work. Returning the item might still be to your benefit because the owner likely wants the item back and might be less inclined to pursue charges against you.
If you find yourself in a situation where you committed the crime of theft but wish to return the item and make amends, contact an experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney right away to discuss how best to proceed.