The Forms of Theft in California

Generally, theft involves taking someone else's property with the intent to deprive the individual of the item permanently or temporarily. This conduct is covered in California’s theft statute, Penal Code § 484. Looking closely at the text of the law, you may notice that the state also identifies different forms of theft.

These include:

  • Theft by larceny,
  • Theft by embezzlement,
  • Theft by false pretenses, and
  • Theft by trick.

The forms are distinguished by the conduct the actor engaged in to take possession of the other person’s property.

Although different forms of theft exist, they are punished similarly per the state’s grand theft and petty theft laws.

If you have been charged with any theft in Santa Rosa, get an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your case. Call the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C. at (707) 418-5352 or submit an online contact form today.

Theft by Larceny

Theft by larceny is likely what’s commonly thought of when a person hears someone has been accused of theft. As indicated in California Penal Code § 484, it occurs when a person steals, takes, carries, leads, or drives away with another person’s property without that individual’s consent.

A person may be accused of theft by larceny if they allegedly physically remove property from another’s possession without using force or violence. For instance, suppose Charlie takes a bicycle from his neighbor’s driveway. Because he did not have consent and did not intend to return the bike, he could be charged with theft by larceny.

For the prosecutor to prove guilt, they must show that:

  • The defendant took another person’s property,
  • The property owner did not permit the taking,
  • The defendant intended to deprive the owner of the property permanently or temporarily, and
  • The defendant physically moved the property, regardless of the distance.

Theft By Embezzlement

Charges for theft by embezzlement may arise when someone fraudulently uses property entrusted to them. For instance, say Stan is Ray’s business manager. Ray trusts Stan to reasonably manage his finances and use funds for business-related expenses. However, Stan writes checks to himself for personal purposes, even forging Ray’s signatures.

Theft by embezzlement differs from theft by larceny in that with the former, the person accused of the offense had permission to handle the property they fraudulently used.

The specific elements of theft by embezzlement include:

  • The property owner entrusting assets to the defendant,
  • The owner trusting the defendant to use the property for intended purposes,
  • The defendant fraudulently using the property for anything other than the intended purposes, and
  • The defendant intending to deprive the owner of the property permanently or temporarily.

Theft by False Pretenses

Theft by false pretenses is characterized by a property owner willfully giving someone else their property because they believed that individual’s misrepresentations. To illustrate, suppose Mary claims that she can help other people get lucrative jobs, knowing she can’t. She charges a fee for her services but never does anything to help with the job search.

Theft by false pretenses involves:

  • A defendant knowingly using false information to deceive a property owner. Misrepresentations can include:
    • Statements known to be false,
    • Recklessly giving out fraudulent information without verifying its truth,
    • Knowingly withholding material information, and
    • Making empty promises.
  • A defendant coercing a person to transfer possession of their property. This usually involves the defendant providing false writings or documents to the property owner.
  • A property owner giving up their property because of the defendant’s deceit. The owner relied on the defendant's false information to ultimately decide to hand over their belongings.

Theft By Trick

Theft by trick occurs when a person uses fraud or deceit to unlawfully take possession of someone else’s property. Fraud or deception involves causing the property owner to consent to allowing the individual to use the property for a particular purpose, but the individual uses it other than intended.

For example, suppose Chris offers to wash his neighbor’s car. The neighbor agrees and hands Chris the keys so he can roll up the windows. However, Chris never intended to clean the car and drives off with the vehicle.

For theft by trick, the prosecutor must prove that:

  • The defendant obtained someone else’s property,
  • The defendant used fraud or deceit to cause the property owner to give them the property,
  • The defendant intended to deprive the owner of the property permanently or temporarily, and
  • The owner did not mean to transfer property ownership.

The Punishments for the Different Forms of Theft

Theft by larceny, embezzlement, false pretenses, or trick are punishable as grand theft or petty theft. An act is grand theft when the value of the property is more than $950, and it’s petty theft when the value is $950 or less.

Grand theft is a wobbler, penalized by:

  • Up to 1 year in jail or
  • 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in jail.

Petty theft is a misdemeanor, with punishments including up to 6 months in jail.

Contact the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C.

Fighting theft charges of any form requires highlighting weaknesses in the prosecutor’s arguments. To do this, you must thoroughly examine the laws and evidence and create a compelling narrative. Allow an attorney to help build your case.

To schedule a consultation with a Santa Rosa lawyer, contact us at (707) 418-5352.

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