If you commit a property crime in California, you may receive misdemeanor or felony charges. The charges you face will depend on several factors, including the severity of the offense and your criminal history. If you commit the offense of unlawfully obtaining another person's property, the charges you face will depend on the value of the property obtained. The charges will also depend on the method you used to obtain the property. If you are accused of any property crime, you should seek legal counsel immediately. Los Angeles Criminal Attorney can help you come up with a good defense strategy. With proper defense, the court may reduce your charges or dismiss the charges. 

Overview of Property Crimes under California Law

Under California law, there are many types of property crimes. The crimes come with devastating consequences, which may include imprisonment and hefty fines. Some of the leading property crimes in California include:

Burglary

You may receive burglary charges under California law if you enter a residential, commercial, or any other property with the aim of committing any kind of theft. For you to face burglary charges, you do not need to use force, violence, or threat while entering a property. In addition, you do not have to commit any act of destruction for you to face burglary charges. The only requirement for you to face charges is to access another person's property with the intent of committing a theft. Under California law, the offense of burglary is a wobbler offense, and the prosecutor may charge you with misdemeanor or felony charges according to California Penal Code Section 459. 

According to California Penal Code Section 460, there are two categories of burglary: first-degree burglary and second-degree burglary.  You can commit a first-degree burglary if you access an occupied residential property. Even if no one is residing at the residential property, the property may qualify as inhabited as long as it is for dwelling purposes. The offense of first-degree burglary is a felony, and you may receive imprisonment of two, four, or six years in the state prison. If you commit the first-degree burglary, the court cannot grant you probation instead of jail time. You would have to serve mandatory jail time without parole.

You may receive second-degree burglary if you access a commercial structure or any other structure other than a dwelling or residence. If you commit second-degree burglary, you may receive misdemeanor or felony charges. If you face misdemeanor charges, the penalties may include serving jail time in a California county jail for a period that does not exceed one year. If you face felony charges for second-degree burglary, you may serve imprisonment for sixteen months, two years, or three years in a California state prison. 

For you to face burglary charges under California law, the prosecutor has to prove several elements of the crime. For instance, the prosecutor has to prove that you gained unlawful entry into another person's property. It is easy for the prosecutor to prove entry because it does not require much action for a defendant to enter a structure. The prosecutor also has to prove that you had the intent to steal or the intent of committing another felony crime upon entering the property. If you were in possession of burglary tools like pliers, crowbars, or blow torches at the time of committing the crime, they might act as evidence.  The prosecutor may use the tools to prove your intent to steal or commit another felony after entering the building. 

Vandalism

The California Penal Code 594 (a) outlines the offense of vandalism.  If you deface, destroy, or damage any personal or real property that does not belong to you, you may receive vandalism charges under the law.  The consequences of vandalism under California law will depend on the cost of damage. If you cause damage worth $400 or more, you may serve jail time that does not exceed one year in county jail. The court may also require you to pay a fine that does not exceed $10,000.

If you commit damage worth between $400 and $10,000, you may serve jail time of up to one year.  You may also have to pay a fine that does not exceed $50,000.  If you commit minimal vandalism that is valued under $400, the crime may be punishable by jail time that does not exceed one year in a California county jail. You may also have to pay fines that do not exceed $1,000. It is imperative to note that if you are a repeat offender, you may receive enhanced charges if you commit a vandalism crime. 

You may receive additional charges for a crime of vandalism if you face additional allegations.  For instance, if you commit the offense of vandalism for the benefit of gang members, you may receive gang enhancements. The enhancement would lead to lengthy jail time and hefty fines.  You may fight vandalism charges with the help of an experienced attorney. The attorney can assert that you are a victim of mistaken identity, and you did not commit the offense of vandalism.  It is common for law enforcement officers to misinterpret images captured on surveillance cameras. It is also common for witnesses who may not have seen the perpetrators of vandalism well to accuse innocent people of vandalism. 

If you are a first-time offender or if you are a juvenile, you may receive alternative sentencing. With alternative sentencing, you can avoid going to jail. With the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney, you can explore the available alternative sentencing options to ensure that you do not land in jail.  For instance, the court may recommend probation instead of jail time.  While on probation, the court may require you to undergo counseling or carry out community service. 

Grand Theft

If you steal property worth more than $950, you may receive grand theft charges under California law.  The California Penal Code Section 487 (a) outlines the offense of grand theft.  It is imperative to note that stealing some items always qualify as grand theft under California law irrespective of the value of the property stolen.  For instance, you will face grand theft charges if you steal items like vehicles, animals like horses, firearms, aquacultural products, and some farm products.  According to California law, if you steal property worth less than $950, you may receive misdemeanor charges. The applicable consequences for misdemeanor charges include imprisonment that does not exceed six months. You may also pay a fine that does not exceed $1,000.  If you commit grand theft for items with a value that exceeds $950, you may receive felony charges. For felony charges, you would serve a longer prison term of up to three years in a California state prison.  If you commit a grand theft involving a firearm, you may pay fines of up to $5,000. You may also serve an imprisonment of up to one year. 

How can you fight grand theft charges under California law? It is imperative to note that for you to face charges, the prosecutor has to prove that you had the intention of stealing the property in question and depriving the owner of its use.  If you successfully prove in court that the property in question is rightfully yours, you cannot face grand theft charges.  You may also assert that you did not have the intent of stealing the property. You may assert that you took the property by mistake. With proper defense, the court may reduce your grand theft charges to a lesser crime of petty theft. The offense of petty theft is a misdemeanor offense and has lower charges than the offense of grand theft. 

Petty Theft

Under California law, you may receive petty theft charges if you steal property that is valued at $950 or less.  In other words, petty theft is a lesser crime to the offense of grand theft, which involves stealing property worth more than $950. However, if you steal firearms, motor vehicles, or other specified items, you may receive petty theft charges even if the value of property stolen is less than $950. 

The offense of petty theft has two elements that the prosecutor has to prove for you face charges. The prosecutor has to prove that you committed a crime theft. Secondly, the prosecutor has to prove that the value of the stolen property did not exceed $950.  The prosecutor must prove your intention of depriving the property owner of the use, value, and enjoyment of the property.  It must be evident that you intend to keep the property away from its owner for a considerable period denying the owner a significant portion of the property's value or enjoyment. 

Most cases of shoplifting in California are charged as petty theft. However, you can always challenge petty theft charges if the prosecutor cannot prove that you took an item with the aim of stealing it. You may defend yourself by asserting that you took an item from the store with the aim of paying for it, but then you forgot and walked out of the store with the item. If you are absent-minded and you end up forgetting to pay for an item in the store does not qualify as petty theft. You may also fight petty theft charges by pointing out that the item you took belongs to you. You may also assert that you had the owner's consent to pick the item.

The offense of petty theft is a misdemeanor under California law. If the court convicts you of petty theft, you may serve misdemeanor probation for up to three years. You may also serve jail time that does not exceed six months in county jail. The court may also require you to pay fines that do not exceed $1,000.  The severity of the penalties that the court will impose on you will depend on several factors, including the severity of the case. The value of the property stolen will also determine the severity of the consequences you face. If you commit a first-time petty theft crime, the court may recommend alternative sentencing, including community service and counseling. The court may also prompt you to repay the stolen item instead of recommending probation or jail time. 

Trespassing

According to California Penal Code Section 602 (h) 1, you may receive trespassing charges if you illegally access lands, buildings, or other property owned by another individual without their consent. It is particularly illegal to unlawfully enter another person's property if there are signs forbidding trespassing clearly visible. It is also illegal to destroy, remove, or damage any fences or signs that mark another person's property boundaries. The California trespassing laws make it illegal to access another person's property with the aim of causing damages on the property. You may also face charges if you access another person's property with the aim of disrupting business activities going on in the property. You may also access another person's property without his/her consent, and you refuse to leave the property even when asked to. This would attract trespassing charges under California law.

You may receive trespassing charges while in the real sense, you had no intention of trespassing or violating the law. With the help of a good attorney, you can come up with a defense strategy to fight the charges in court. While fighting trespassing charges, you can point out that you had a right to access the property. You may also assert that you had a right to access the owner's property. You may also say that you did not have an intention to cause damage to the other person's property. If there were no displays of 'no trespassing' sign on the property, you might claim that you were not aware that you had no right to enter the property.  This way, you can successfully fight trespassing charges in court. Other defenses to the offense of trespassing include constitutional rights to assemble in a peaceful manner to protest. The purpose of trespassing laws is to give property owners rights to live and to conduct business within their property without disturbance. 

Arson

The offense of arson is severe under California law due to its deadly nature. The crime entails the intentional and malicious burning of property. There are many types of arsons under California law. However, all of them revolve around the malicious destruction of property, infliction of injuries, and leading to great bodily injuries and loss of life.  Under California law, arson typically attracts felony charges. The consequences for the offense may range from imprisonment to hefty penalties. The court can also impose lifetime registration as an arsonist. In some instances, the court may charge arson as a misdemeanor instead of a felony, depending on the nature of the offense and your criminal history.

Investigating an arson case may take a long time because, in most cases, the evidence may be lost in the fire.  The investigating officers may have to employ sophisticated chemical analysis systems to unearth the evidence. Upon identifying the real cause of a fire, it is possible to know whether the cause was accidental or intentional. If there are witnesses who saw the suspect set a property on fire, it can be easy to file arson charges against the suspect. The police may identify a suspect if all the evidence of setting a property on fire relates to him/her.  If you face felony arson charges, the charges may earn you a strike on your record in accordance with the California Three Strikes law.

The California Penal Code Section 451 outlines the offense of arson.  According to California law, if arson causes great bodily injury, the defendant may face imprisonment in a California State prison for five, seven, or nine years. The defendant also registers as a lifetime arsonist. If a defendant burn occupied the property, he/she might serve an imprisonment of three, five, or eight years. Other consequences may include lifetime registration as an arsonist.  Committing arson on forestland or any other property may lead to imprisonment of two, four, or six years in a California state prison and lifetime registration as an arsonist.

You may commit arson on your own property with the aim of committing insurance fraud. This felony offense may attract imprisonment of 16 months, two years, or three years in a California state prison. Other consequences may include lifetime registration as an arsonist under California law. If you cause death due to arson, you may receive murder charges and lifetime registration as an arsonist. You may attempt to commit arson but fail to succeed. Under California law, the offense of attempted arson is a felony that is punishable by imprisonment of 16 months, two years, or three years in a California state prison.

You may receive penalty enhancement if you have a prior conviction of arson under California law. If the offense of arson causes great bodily injury to protected emergency personnel like a firefighter, you may receive enhanced penalties. You may also face enhanced penalties if one or more people suffer great bodily injury due to arson. If you burn multiple structures in the arson, you may receive enhanced charges. 

Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

If you or your loved one is facing accusations, you need an attorney to help you come up with a defense strategy. Los Angeles Criminal Attorney can help you to create a good defense strategy.                                  Call us at 424-333-0943 today.