A theft crime is a common offense among many youths and even adults in our state despite harsh laws to curb this immoral offense. Prosecutors have the discretion to file the most severe charge against violators of theft law to deter other people with similar habits. One of the most severe charges that could arise from a theft case is the offense of grand theft.
If you or your beloved one faces a grand theft charge in Pasadena, CA, you should speak with a skilled and credible criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Knowledgeable attorneys at The Law Offices of Fountain & Hattersley understand how prosecutors and jurors handle grand theft cases and possible related offenses.
We will represent and fight for your rights on every court proceeding to achieve a desirable outcome during these challenging and stressful moments.
An Overview of Grand Theft Under the Law
Theft is a broad term that means taking another person’s assets, property, or even money to possess it as your own without the owner’s consent. Depending on the amount involved, circumstances, facts, and location of the offense, law enforcement officers will charge a theft offense as either:
- Grand theft
- Petty theft
- Federal grand theft
In this article, we help you understand what grand theft crime is and how you can protect your rights and interests if you face any form of grand theft charge, which are many under the law. A grand theft charge is the severest form of theft crime punishable under the law because it involves valuable property/assets.
Unlike a petty theft charge which involves less valuable property (worth less than $950), a grand theft charge involves property, asset, money, or labor worth $950 or more according to section 487(a) of the Penal Code. However, you might still be subject to a grand theft charge if you steal particular items regardless of their value, for example:
- Specific domestic animals like horse
- Farms products like aquacultural products and avocados
Below are examples of instances or actions which can make you subject to grand theft charges under section 487(a) of the Penal Code:
- Breaking into another person’s house and stealing electronics or appliances worth more than $2,000
- Embezzling thousands of dollars from a worker/employee
- Shoplifting a piece of watch that has a $1,500 price tag
The prosecutor presiding over your case has the leeway to file your alleged grand theft charge as either a felony or misdemeanor because it is a wobbler offense, depending on the following factors:
- Type of property/asset in question
- Your criminal history
- Aggravating factors surrounding the offense, like the use of a deadly weapon
- Concurrent charges
- The criminal sophistication you need to commit the alleged offense.
You will need an attorney by your side to raise relevant mitigating factors to convince the prosecutor to file your case as a misdemeanor or drop it. An arrest for grand theft or related offense does not have to come down to a conviction because there are several legal defense tactics your defense attorney can argue in court to counter the charges for a favorable outcome.
Forms of Grand Theft Chargeable and Punishable Under the Law
There are numerous ways you can violate grand theft laws under Penal Code 487(a). To secure a conviction against you for violating PC 487(a), the prosecutor presiding over your case must prove each element of the crime in your specific grand theft charge. You can violate grand theft laws through either of the following possible ways:
Typically, a grand theft known by larceny, happens when you physically take another person’s tangible asset/property without his/her permission to do so. To be guilty of this crime, the prosecutor should prove to the jury that you had the intent to do either of the following after taking the alleged property or asset in question:
- Permanently deprive the legal property owner of his/her ownership and possession rights to the property in question, or
- Keep it for a period long enough to deprive the owner of a significant part or portion of his/her enjoyment or wellness.
Whether you had the intent to return the property in question to the lawful owner or not, you should consult an attorney because the law does not consider that as a defense argument during the case’s trial.
You might be liable for violating grand theft laws by larceny regardless of the distance you had to move the property question if the prosecutor can prove other elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
By False Pretense
Penal Code 532 makes it a crime to defraud another person using false representations or promises. Typically, you commit grand theft through false pretense when you persuade and convince another person to voluntarily let you take ownership and possession of his/her property by doing any of the following knowingly:
- Making him/her believe in a promise you do not intend to keep
- Saying something that you already know is false
- Recklessly providing untruthful information that you have no reason to trust or believe
To secure a conviction against you, the prosecutor must prove that the other person (claimant) had a reason to rely on your false pretenses before transferring legal ownership and physical possession of his/her property to you. That means deception has to be one of the main reasons why the property owner had to let you take possession and ownership of his/her property.
Below are various types of evidence the prosecutor may need in court to prove you guilty of theft through false pretense:
- A testimony from one or two eyewitnesses
- The alleged false writing or “fake” document involved in the offense
- Any writing detailing the false pretense with your signature in it
All the above evidence is essential to convince the judge or jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of grand theft through false pretense. It is upon your defense attorney to find a weakness in the prosecutor’s case to raise some doubts on the theft allegations against you for the best possible outcome.
Grand theft though trick, shares some similarity with grand theft through false pretense, although there are a few notable differences. In a grand theft through false pretense case, the plaintiff/property owner will rely on your word or statements to be true to allow you to take both ownership and possession of his/her property.
However, in a grand theft charge by trick, the property owner only lets you take physical possession of his/her property without the intent of transferring its ownership rights to you. The prosecutor carries the evidentiary burden of proof to demonstrate to the jury the following elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction against you for committing grand theft through a trick:
- You were aware the property in question was not yours before taking it
- There was the use of deceit or fraud to convince the property owner to let you take possession of the property in question
- You had the intent to take the property in question permanently from the rightful owner or deprive him/her of an essential portion of the property value in his/her life
- The value of the asset/property in question was $950 or more
Grand theft through embezzlement is a common crime that affects people in positions of entrustment in organizations, federal agencies, and companies. Penal Code 503 describes embezzlement as the fraudulent taking of another person’s property because you are in a position of entrustment with the criminal intent to deprive him/her of its value or use by keeping it to yourself for your benefit.
Even if you had the intent to return the money or the property in question, the prosecutor might obtain a conviction against you for violating PC 503 if the property in question was worth $950 or more and the claimant had a reason to trust you.
The jury doesn’t have to agree on which of the above laws you are guilty of violating if the prosecutor claims that you are liable for violating grand theft laws under PC 487. The jury only expects the prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of grand theft through any of the above possible ways.
You will rely on your criminal defense attorney during every stage of the prosecution process to convince the judge or jurors to drop or reduce the alleged grand theft charge against you to a less severe offense like petty theft.
Court Proceedings Following Any of the Above Forms of Grand Theft Charge
Shortly after passing the arrest and booking process for allegedly committing a grand theft offense, you should expect your first court appearance within 48 hours. Every court appearance following a charge for committing a grand theft offense through any of the above ways will be an opportunity for your attorney to fight for your freedom and legal rights.
Below are court processes or proceedings you should expect following a grand theft charge under Penal Code 487 PC:
The arraignment or initial hearing is the first court proceeding your attorney can attend when the prosecutor files your charges in court for prosecution. At the arraignment, the court will inform you of the following:
- Your constitutional rights
- The criminal allegations against you and the nature of the charge
- Your rights to have a public defender by your side if you cannot afford a private attorney
The court will also expect you to enter a plea to the alleged grand theft charges at the arraignment. However, you don’t have to make any plea decision without your defense attorney’s legal advice because every plea decision will have its consequences under the law. Your attorney will advise you on the plea option which will work out in your favor, among the following three options:
- Not guilty
- No Contest
During the arraignment hearing, the court may also address your custody status before your case trial. Depending on your criminal record, the sophistication of your case, and the likelihood of appearing in court for future proceedings, the judge will decide the amount you should pay as bail during the arraignment.
If you don’t post the required bail amount, you will have to stay in detention until your case’s verdict, even if you are innocent of the alleged charge.
The Pretrial Hearing
The purpose of the pretrial hearing is to ensure the prosecutor has sufficient evidence against you for allegedly committing a grand theft crime. The prosecutor and your defense attorney will exchange their evidence during the discovery stage to determine whether your case is fit for trial.
During the pretrial hearing, your attorney may file various motions to suppress the evidence, reduce or dismiss the charges against you if:
- There was a violation of your constitutional right during the arrest
- There wasn’t a probable cause for your arrest
If the court decides that the available evidence against you is sufficient to make you eligible for a trial, your case will proceed to the next hearing stage, the trial.
According to the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, you are eligible for a jury trial regardless of whether your grand theft case is a felony or misdemeanor. However, you can choose to waive your legal right to a jury trial and allow a judge to hear the grand theft allegations against you.
During the trial, the prosecutor presents his/her pieces of evidence related to the grand theft charge against you, which can include:
- Eyewitness testimony
- Audio and video recordings
- Physical evidence like a gun
Your defense attorney can cross-examine the prosecutor’s eyewitnesses. Further, he/she will introduce arguments in your defense to counter the alleged grand theft charges against you for a favorable result. When the court finds the grand theft allegations against you to be true beyond a reasonable doubt according to the prosecutor’s evidentiary argument, your case will proceed to the sentencing phase.
During the sentencing phase following a grand theft offense conviction, the judge or the jurors will give your defense attorney and the prosecutor a chance to present their opinions on the appropriate sentence for your specific crime. Your defense attorney must convince the judge that you deserve a lenient penalty for your charge.
Potential Consequences You Are Likely to Face for a Grand Theft Offense Conviction
As mentioned above, a grand theft charge under PC 487 is chargeable and punishable as either a felony or a misdemeanor, considering your unique theft case facts and criminal record. A conviction for violating PC 487 as a misdemeanor is punishable by a maximum of one (1) year in the county jail.
However, if the prosecutor manages to secure a felony conviction against you for violating PC 487, you will be subject to the following potential consequences:
- A term in the county jail for two years, three years, or sixteen months, except if your theft offense involves stealing a firearm, which attracts different penalties.
- Felony probation with a maximum of one-year incarceration in the county jail
If the property in question was a firearm, your grand theft case will become a felony, also commonly known as a grand theft firearm according to Penal Code 487(d)(2). According to Proposition 47, the court will consider stealing a firearm as a “grand theft firearm” under PC 487(d)(2) if:
- You had a prior conviction history of a sex crime that requires you to register as a sex offender.
- The firearm was worth $950 or more.
A conviction against you for violating PC 487(d)(2) will attract the following type of consequences:
- A fine of up to $10,000
- Formal probation
- An incarceration term in the state prison for two years, three years, or 16 months
According to Penal Code 1192.7(c), a grand theft firearm under PC 487(d)(2) is a severe felony offense that qualifies as a “strike” according to the Three Strikes Law. That means if you have a criminal record for violating PC 487(d)(2) in the past, the court will consider this offense when deciding the appropriate sentence for a subsequent felony offense conviction.
A conviction of any serious/violent felony offense like rape or murder while having a conviction history for violating PC 487(d)(2) will make you subject to twice the standard sentence/penalty of the underlying charge.
Under the Three-Strikes Law, you could also be subject to a maximum of 25 years in the state prison or life if you accumulate a conviction or strikes of three severe or violent felonies. You must retain the services of a knowledgeable defense attorney to defend your rights aggressively and fight for a desirable verdict that will not attract any of the above severe potential consequences of a grand theft conviction.
Possible Additional Sentence Enhancements for a Grand Theft Offense Conviction
Depending on the value or worth of the asset/property in question, you could also be subject to additional time in prison for a felony grand theft offense conviction. Below are possible additional sentence enhancements for a grand theft offense conviction related to high-value properties:
- One year prison term if the asset/property in question value is more than $65,000
- Two years prison term if the asset/property in question value is more than $200,000
- Three years prison term if the asset/property in question value is more than $1,300,000
- Four years in prison term if the property in question value is more than $3,200,000
When determining the above value of the property in question after a grand theft conviction for appropriate sentence enhancement, the court will calculate the sum of the value of each of the properties in question under a specific common plan or scheme.
How to Fight a Grand Theft Charge
The following are possible legal defense tactics your defense attorney could use in court to counter grand theft charges against you for a less severe charge or dismissal of the entire case:
Lack of Intent
The defendant must have the criminal intent of stealing the property in question for a grand theft offense conviction. Therefore, when your attorney manages to convince the judge that you didn’t intend to take the property in question, meaning the act was accidental, you could be free of charge and any possible accompanying penalties.
If there was consent between you and the claimant or property owner that you are taking the property in question to possess it like yours, you should not be guilty of violating grand theft laws under PC 487. However, the manner you decide to use that property should be within the scope or context of that consent.
That means, if you decide to use that property/asset for a different purpose or keep it longer than the agreed period, you cannot use consent as a legal defense strategy.
Often several people face wrongful convictions for falsely accused crimes like embezzlement or any other form of grand theft. The court acknowledges the possibility of false accusations in a grand theft charge, especially when a business deal becomes sour.
In that kind of scenario, your attorney might manage to argue that you are innocent because the grand theft charge against you was due to false allegations or accusations.
Beware, if there is insufficient evidence against you to convince the judge/jury that you are liable for violating PC 487, the prosecutor might decide to file a different related or alternative charge against you, for example:
- Petty theft under PC 488
- Petty theft with a prior under PC 666
- Grand theft auto under PC 487(d)(1)
- Burglary under PC 459
- Robbery under PC 211
Also, if you are a non-citizen, a grand theft conviction can result in immigration consequences because grand theft is a crime of moral turpitude under the law. That means you could be at risk of deportation regardless of your period of stay here.
Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Retaining the services of a reliable defense attorney who understands grand theft laws to the core is the first crucial step to take when you face any related charge for the best legal representation in your case. We invite you to call The Law Offices of Fountain & Hattersley at 626-793-4111 to discuss your case with our understanding attorneys wherever you are in Pasadena, California.
We will offer you the legal guidance and representation you need to achieve the best results in this confusing criminal justice system.