This autumn, news in the Golden State is almost exclusively about the wildfires that have wreaked havoc across thousands of acres. As this tragic story plays out, many people have been displaced, and in some instances, their houses have been destroyed. Coupled with this tragedy is the new issue of looters. However, while there may be some individuals looking to profit off the fact that people’s belongings are now out in the open, there are nevertheless some individuals who have been accused of looting who are not as guilty as law enforcement may believe. Retaining the services of an attorney with expertise in criminal defense, including burglary and petty and grand theft, can be crucial to ensure that an individual accused of looting can adequately combat those charges. Recently, an article in the Sacramento Bee illustrated the concern that some residents have had regarding looting in their fire-ravaged neighborhoods. A discussion of looting, in general, as well as penalties and common defenses, will follow below.
California Law on Looting
In California, looting is covered by Chapter 463 of the California Penal Code. Recognizing that, during riots, natural disasters and other states of emergencies, there is always a risk that individuals will take advantage of the chaos around them and engage in theft, the California Penal Code considers looting an illegal act if the following elements are established:
- An intentional act of commercial burglary, petty or grand theft, or grand theft of a firearm;
- During a state of emergency.
Thus, essentially, looting is actually the commission of another crime (burglary, petty or grand theft, or grand theft of a firearm) during the existence of an emergency. It should be noted that the emergency can be natural, like an earthquake, flood or other natural disaster, or it can be manmade, like a riot or unlawful assembly.
As mentioned above, since looting is connected with committing another theft crime under specific circumstances, the penalty for a charge of looting is based on the underlying charge. Thus, looting can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the specific facts of the case. Anyone convicted of looting may incur one of the following punishments:
- For petty theft, looting is a misdemeanor, which carries a minimum of 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
- For burglary or grand theft, wobbler crimes in California, an accused individual can be charged with either a felony or misdemeanor, dependent on the individual’s previous criminal history and the facts of surrounding the looting charge. The maximum sentence for a misdemeanor conviction is 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. A felony conviction can result in a sentence of 16 months in a jail, two or three years in prison, and a fine of up to $10,000.
- For grand theft of a firearm, the charge will be a felony which carries a sentence of 16 months, two or three years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
As with all crimes, defenses are available. Some of the more common defenses include:
- Lack of intent (an individual must intend to commit burglary, petty or grand theft, or grand theft of a firearm);
- During the arrest, law enforcement violated the individual’s civil rights, such as conducting an illegal search and/or seizure; and
- The identification of the defendant was mistaken.
Finally, there is the defense of good faith. Essentially, if, during an emergency, an individual committed theft or burglary in good faith, such as taking medical supplies to treat wounds by someone injured as a result of the emergency, that individual may be able to avoid looting charges.
Speak to a Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been charged with looting, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Manshoory Law Group, APC as soon as possible. The attorneys at Manshoory Law Group, APC have extensive knowledge of criminal defense law, including burglary and petty and grand theft, and we will ensure that you are provided with an effective and aggressive defense. Attorneys are available 24/7 to take your call. Contact us today for an initial consultation.