Being accused of a crime brings up a number of short- and long- term concerns. Securing effective criminal defense representation should be one of the first priorities, since the right attorney can have a direct effect on the outcome of the case. However, some other common worries related to keeping a job, having the support of family and friends, and how to respond to a worse case outcome. One worry that criminal defendants typically do not have is paying the government’s costs incurred to prosecute the alleged crime. However, residents of Indio and Coachella in southern central California accused of minor property and public nuisance crimes were billed thousands of dollars by a law firm the cities contracted with to handle these cases. Typically, minor offenses that are punishable by a fine are handled civilly, though criminal prosecution is permissible but rarely pursued. Property crimes can come in many forms, but some of the more common offenses related to theft (burglary, extortion, grand theft auto, robbery and shoplifting, as examples) and misappropriating lost property. A general overview of how California criminal law treats property crime, and some defenses used to challenge the validity of such charges, will follow below.
Property Crimes Generally
In its most basic form, a property crime occurs when someone unlawfully takes the property of another with the intent of permanently depriving the rightful owner of possession and ownership. The type of property crime a person is accused of usually relates to the value of the property taken. Items worth $950 or less are considered petty theft, and those over this amount are classified as grand theft. Exceptions to this monetary limit apply if the property is directly taken from the person, or the theft is accomplished using a firearm. For example, robbery occurs when a person directly steals property from another by threat or force. Burglary refers to entering a locked home, business or car and stealing property contained within. The types of property that can be taken or withheld and charged as a crime are varied and include:
- personal property;
- real property; or
- the value of labor or services.
Convictions for petty theft can be punished by up to a $1,000 fine or six months in county jail. Grand theft is a wobbler and can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, and if a felony conviction is handed down, the defendant could be facing one year in county jail or up to three years in state prison, depending upon his/her past criminal history and the circumstances of the offense.
There are a number of defenses a person can assert to combat a property crime charge, and determining which one to use is a decision an experienced criminal defense attorney makes after taking into consideration the facts of a particular case and the specific charges that are pending. However, absent violence or threats, the following defenses may be used in property crime cases:
- ownership or right of possession, which applies when a defendant can produce evidence supporting a good faith belief the property belonged to him/her, or that he/she had a valid claim to it;
- owner’s consent;
- entrapment – when someone is induced to commit a crime by another with the intent of prosecuting him/her, often attributed to law enforcement; or
- intoxication, which must be significant enough to prevent the defendant from forming an intent to take someone else’s property, e., a person believed, while in an intoxicated state, someone else’s property belonged to him/her.
Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney
Unfortunately, disagreements over who owns property sometimes end up with criminal charges being filed. The implications of any criminal conviction are huge, and should be vigorously fought by an experienced criminal defense attorney. The Los Angeles law firm, Manshoory Law Group, APC, tailors its approach to the facts of each case and the needs of the client in an effort to produce the best possible result. Attorneys are available 24/7 to discuss your case. Contact us for a free consultation.