Houman Fakhimi


The State of California defines theft as “the unlawful taking of someone else’s property without permission with the intent to permanently deprive them of it”. Further, someone can be charged with theft even if the alleged victim gives the property to the defendant, if defendant obtained it fraudulently or under false pretenses.

What are the Possible Sentences for Theft and Embezzlement in California?

Our Southern California criminal defense lawyers understand the majority of these cases involve good people who made unfortunate decisions. Still, the consequences can be significant. It’s why you need an aggressive criminal defense.

A few of those serious consequences of theft-related convictions can include:

  • Jail or prison time
  • Permanent criminal record
  • Probation
  • Job loss (and difficulty in obtaining future employment)
  • Failed background checks
  • Loss or certain state licensing (real estate, nursing contractors, etc.)
  • Immigration consequences

A theft crime is considered a “crime of moral turpitude,” and those convicted often find themselves suffering the consequences for years to come. The good news is there are often a number of effective defense tactics that can serve to reduce charges and penalties or have them dismissed entirely.

White Collar Crimes in California

Theft, Embezzlement, Receiving Stolen Property The term “theft” covers a broad range of actions that are spelled out in detail in the California Penal Code and are often referred to as white collar crimes. Penalties will depend based on not only the severity of the sentence, but also on defendant’s prior criminal record. Our experienced Riverside & Orange County theft attorneys are well-versed in California theft law and have a history of successfully defending clients accused of such crimes.

Those may include:

  • Petty theft, Penal Code 484 and 488. This includes the crime of shop lifting, and involves the taking of property valued at less than $950. Technically, it is considered a misdemeanor. However, per California Penal Code 666, it may be charged as a felony.
  • Grand theft, Penal Code 487. This is theft of property valued at greater than $950. As a “wobbler,” this charge may be filed as a misdemeanor or felony, at the discretion of the prosecutor.
  • Grand theft auto. Similar to other theft laws, it is considered “petty theft” if the vehicle is valued at less than $950. Most often, though, the vehicle’s value is more than that, and so it is often charged as a felony.
  • Auto burglary, Penal Code 459. This entry into a locked vehicle with the intention to steal.
  • Carjacking, per Penal Code 215. This is the taking of a vehicle from someone’s immediate possession by force or fear. It is a felony.
  • Burglary, Penal Code 459. This is the entry into a structure with intent to commit a felony or theft. If the structure is occupied, it will be a felony and “strike” under California’s Three Strikes Law. In some cases where evidence is more subjective, a great burglary and theft attorney can plead this charge down to criminal trespass, per Penal Code 602.
  • Grand theft of a firearm. Although the crime of stealing a gun is considered “grand theft” no matter the weapon’s value, the charge is a wobbler in that it may be charged as a felony or misdemeanor, depending on whether it is valued at more or less than $950.
  • Robbery, Penal Code 211. This is theft of property in someone’s immediate possession with the use of violence, force or threat. This is considered a felony, and it may count as a “strike” under California’s Three Strikes Law. Penalties may be enhanced for use of a firearm in commission of a robbery.
  • Receiving Stolen Property, per Penal Code 496. This is buying or accepting property when the receiver knows or reasonably should know the property is stolen.
  • Embezzlement, per Penal Code 503. This is when a person misappropriates or steals property that was entrusted to him or her by the owner.

While misdemeanors will result in up to 1 year in jail, felony theft crimes, particularly those committed with a firearm, may result in sentences of up to 25-years-to-life, whether they’re deemed white collar crimes or not.

What are the California Theft Crime Defenses?

Theft Attorney The legal strategy your Southern California theft and embezzlement attorney will employ to minimize the impact of a theft-related crime is going to depend heavily on the nature of the crime alleged, the strength of the evidence held by the state and whether the defendant has any prior criminal history that could render the current offense a higher-level crime. You should know that our entire team is committed to each of our clients from the beginning to the conclusion.

  • Possible Southern California defenses we may explore: Ownership or right to the property. You can’t steal property that is yours. If you can establish you had a right to the property, or at least a good faith belief the property taken was yours, you may have a valid defense here.
  • Intoxication. This goes to the element of “intent” that is key to so many California theft cases. Unless you have the intent to permanently deprive someone of property, you can’t be convicted of theft. If we can show our client was intoxicated and mistakenly believed the property was their own, it may be a viable defense.
  • Return of property. This is not usually a defense that’s going to work in a California criminal court. However, property crimes are furthered by the desire of the victim. If our defense lawyer can get on the case early, we may be able to negotiate a return of property and potentially a form of restitution in exchange for dropping the charges. Alternatively, we may be able to show defendant did not intend to permanently deprive alleged victim of property, but instead intended only to borrow it.
  • Lack of knowledge. This is particularly useful in cases of receiving stolen property. We aim to show there was no reasonable basis for the defendant to know the property was stolen before he or she received it. The important thing to remember is that the sooner you have strong legal representation, the more options our theft defenses can be for your case. Call us today to learn more and to schedule a complimentary consultation.