Simply put, grand theft is a form of theft that involves property valued above $950.00.
You can commit grand theft by larceny, false pretense, trick, or embezzlement. Each of these forms of grand theft is discussed at length below.
GRAND THEFT BY LARCENY
Larceny under Penal Code section 487 occurs when you physically get a hold of somebody else’s property and remove it without their permission. To convict you of grand theft by larceny, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable the following:
- you took possession of property that belonged to somebody else;
- you intended to deprive the owner permanently or for a period long enough to deprive him or her of the value or enjoyment of the property;
- the owner did not give you permission to take his or her property; and
- you moved the property for a distance, however short.
For example, Jill attends the bridal shower of her friend, Janet. As Jill is using Janet’s bathroom, she notices an expensive bracelet on a tray by the bathroom sink. The bracelet belongs to Janet. Jill puts the bracelet in her purse and leaves the party with it even though she had no permission from Janet to do so. Jill’s intended to wear the bracelet to a date the next evening. Jill keeps the bracelet for three weeks. Although her intention was to return the bracelet to Janet, Jill has committed grand theft by larceny because she has kept the bracelet for a period long and significant enough to deprive Janet of the use and value of the property.
GRAND THEFT BY FALSE PRETENSE
Grand theft by false pretense under Penal Code section 532 is theft accomplished by trickery or deception. To convict you of grand theft by “false pretense” under Penal Code section 532, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the following:
- you made a “false pretense”—i.e., you knowingly and intentionally attempted to trick someone by presenting as true something that was false;
- you did so with the intent of convincing the person to transfer to you possession of his or her property; and
- relying on your lie or misrepresentation, the person allowed you to take possession and ownership of his or her property.
Making a “false pretense” does not only mean that you present as true something that you know is false. Making a false pretense also includes negligently claiming as true something that you have reason to believe is false, knowingly omitting information that you know you have an obligation to provide, or promising something that you do not intend to carry out. All of the above satisfy the “false pretense” element of Penal Code section 532.
For example, Jack owns a nonprofit organization. He meets Joe, an unsuspecting buyer who wishes to purchase Jack’s nonprofit organization. Jack is fully aware that a nonprofit organization cannot be sold and that thus the sale transaction with Joe would be invalid. But Jack represents to Joe, who is completely unfamiliar with the transfer of ownership of nonprofit organizations, that the nonprofit organization belonging to Joe can be bought for profit. Relying on this representation, Joe pays Jack $350,000 to purchase the organization. If the prosecutor can prove that Jack a) was aware that a nonprofit organization could not be sold and that b) Joe relied on Jack’s representation, then Jack can be found guilty of theft by false pretenses. Jack misrepresented a material fact to Joe with the intention of convincing Joe to pay him $350,000.00.
GRAND THEFT BY TRICK
To convict you of grand theft by trick, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the following:
- you used fraud or deceit to acquire property that belonged to someone else;
- you intended to deprive the owner of the property either permanently or for a period significant enough to deprive him or her of the use and value of the property; and
- the property owner relied on your deceipt or fraud to transfer ownership of the property to you.
Grand theft by trick is identical to grand theft by false pretense with the exception of one key difference: In grand theft by false pretenses, both ownership and possession of the property are transferred by the owner of the property to the defendant. In grand theft by theft, only ownership is transferred by owner of the property to the defendant.
For example, Jill lies to her boyfriend, Jack, that she needs his car to take her daughter to the emergency. Jill intends to take Jack’s car and never return it to him. Jack agrees to lend Jill the car so long as she returns it shortly after. While Jack transferred temporary ownership of the vehicle to Jill, he did not transfer title of the vehicle to Jill. Jill has therefore committed grand theft by trick.
GRAND THEFT BY EMBEZZLEMENT
You commit grand theft by embezzlement when you fraudulently use property with which you were entrusted. To convict you of grand theft by embezzlement, the prosecutor has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the following:
- the owner of a property entrusted you with that property;
- the property owner trusted you with ownership of that property;
- you used the property for you own benefit and without the owner’s permission; and
- you intended to deprive the owner of the property either temporarily or permanently
For example, Jack has $50,000.00 in cash that he stores at home. Jack is planning to leave the country for a couple of months and does not want to store that much cash in an empty house. Jack therefore entrusts his friend Joe with this $50,000.00 to keep until Jack returns from his trip. As soon as Jack leaves the country, Joe uses that $50,000,00 to pay for his daughter’s first-year college tuition. Joe does not ask Jack for permission, but promises to himself that he will pay Jack back in the future. Joe has committed embezzlement because he took property with which he was entrusted and, without the owner’s permission or consent, used that property for his own benefit.
PENALTIES FOR GRANDT THEFT
Grand theft is a wobbler, which means it can be prosecuted as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the particulars of the offense and your criminal history. A misdemeanor conviction for grand theft subjects you to informal probation and up to one year in county jail. If you do not have a criminal history, a misdemeanor conviction for grand theft usually would not carry any jail.
A felony conviction for grand theft subjects you to one year of county jail or 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in county jail, depending on your criminal history.
The penalties for felony grand theft are harsher if any of the following enhancements apply:
Use of a firearm
If you used a firearm in the commission of the theft, then you face 16 months, two years, or three years in California State prison. A grand theft by firearm is also considered a serious felony under Penal Code section 1192.7(c ) and a “strike” under California’s Three-Strikes Law.
The value of the property was over a certain amount
If the value of the property that you stole was over a certain amount, you face additional and consecutive penalties as follows:
- 1 year if the value of the property was above $65,000.00
- 2 years if the value of the property was above $200,000.00
- 3 years if the value of the property was above $1,300,000.00
- 4 years if the value of the property was above $3,200,000.00
There are a variety of legal defenses to a charge of grand theft. Which of these defenses is most applicable to you depends on the particulars of your specific case. In general, some common defenses to grand theft include:
- You did not have the intent to steal
In order to prove any charge of grand theft against you, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you had the intent to steal. If your attorney can convince the jury that you lacked this intent—e.g., that you either made a reasonable mistake of fact or was absent-minded—you cannot be found guilty of grand theft.
- You genuinely and reasonably believed that the property belonged to you
If you honestly and reasonably believed that the property belonged to you, then you had no intent to steal the property. Therefore, you are not guilty of grand theft, even if your belief was factually incorrect. This defense does not apply to property that you own illegally.
- The property owner consented to your taking of the property
If the property owner consented to your ownership of the property, then you are not guilty of grand theft. However, your use of that property must not exceed the scope of that consent. This means that you cannot use the property for a purpose not allowed by the owner or keep the property for a period longer than that permitted by the owner.
HOW CAN WE HELP
Actual case: In People v. J.E. (case number not disclosed per client’s request), Mr. E was charged with felony grand theft of property valued above $200,000.00. At the time of the offense, Mr. E was a supervisor of a company. The prosecutor alleged that Mr. E had fabricated time sheets for the employees and collected the money that the company issued based on this fraudulent misrepresentation. The value of the total amount that Mr. E allegedly stole and his prior record of serious theft and prison priors meant that he was subject to significant county jail or prison time. The prosecution’s initial offer was 3 years of state prison. Realizing that the law and the facts were not on Mr. E’s side, Negin worked diligently on a compelling mitigation package. She had Mr. E seek long-term and in-depth psychological counseling and work very hard toward repaying the company a good portion of the money allegedly stolen. For months, Negin negotiated aggressively with the prosecution to present a “rehabilitated” version of Mr. E. Negin’s efforts paid off. After she submitted a compelling mitigation package that consisted of a significant restitution amount, the prosecution offered Mr. E felony probation and community labor in lie of 3 years of state prison.
Negin’s approach: Negin carefully evaluates each case of grand theft and plans a defense accordingly. If the facts and the law are not on the defendant’s side, as was in the case of Mr. E, Negin will work diligently to compile a mitigation package that will convince the prosecutor of the moot purpose of incarceration and that will hopefully result in favorable alternatives to incarceration.