If you were arrested for petty theft, grand theft, forgery, robbery, burglary, identity theft, medical or insurance fraud, shoplifting, embezzlement, credit card theft, auto theft, or receiving stolen property, then you are facing charges for a theft offense.
Court Process For Theft Crimes
First court appearance in a theft case (Arraignment)
Most likely you were given a citation or you signed a promise-to-appear. Either of these will have the date and the court location where you must appear. At your first court appearance, called an arraignment, the judge tells you and your criminal defense lawyer exactly what theft crimes you are being charged with. The court will give you and your lawyer a copy of the Complaint. This is the official document listing the theft offenses, such as burglary, robbery or forgery. The Complaint must list all special allegations and enhancements, such as a prior conviction or prison sentence.
If the theft charge you face is only a misdemeanor, such as petty theft, your criminal defense lawyer can appear at the arraignment in your place. At the arraignment your criminal defense attorney will get a copy of the police report and should serve a written request on the District Attorney (“DA”) for “discovery”, which is other important evidence such as video tapes, audio tapes and witness statements.
At this early stage in a theft case, a plea of “not guilty” is almost always entered and another court date, called a “pretrial conference” is set a few weeks down the road. A pretrial conference is a hearing where the District Attorney and your criminal defense attorney meet and discuss the case. Often, the DA will make an initial offer to settle the case.
If you are facing felony theft charges, such as robbery or residential burglary, you have the right to a “preliminary hearing” at which the DA must produce enough evidence against you to justify prosecuting you. This hearing offers your criminal defense lawyer a great opportunity to cross-examine the police witnesses in your case. It is also an opportunity to present evidence of any possible defenses. Theft offenses have specific elements and the DA must produce evidence of each element. Also, if you have been charged with a felony but the case really isn’t too serious, your criminal defense attorney can petition the judge to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor.
During a series of pretrial conferences your criminal defense attorney will receive and review all the evidence they requested, interview witnesses, visit relevant locations and consult with experts. They should also conduct legal research on any of the various legal issues that may arise in your theft case. Hiring an attorney with the intelligence and skill to spot these legal issues can be the difference between winning and losing.
If your criminal defense attorney recognizes police conduct impacting your constitutional rights, such as a search and seizure issue or the failure of police to adequately advise you of certain important rights, then he should file a motion to suppress the evidence and possibly dismiss the case.
If there are no suppression issues, your criminal defense lawyer must then determine if the DA can convict you of a theft crime with the evidence they have. Can you be positively identified by a witness as one who took property? Can the DA prove the requisite intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property? Or did you plan to return it?
If the evidence against you appears strong, your criminal defense attorney must determine if you have a possible defense. Is there a “mistake of fact” defense? Did the owner of the property consent to you possessing it? Is there an entrapment issue? Did you know the property was stolen when you received it?
If you don’t have a defense, it falls on your criminal defense lawyer to negotiate the best possible deal for you. A skilled attorney must be prepared to highlight the strengths of your case so that the DA would rather avoid a trial than risk seeing your attorney “pull a rabbit out of his hat” again. Your criminal defense attorney must also present you to the judge and DA in the most favorable light. He must make sure the judge and DA are aware of any mitigating circumstances in your case? Often, the only window into your personal life is through your attorney. If your attorney is effective at doing these things, you’re likely to get the best possible offer from the DA or the Judge.
Finally, if jail time seems unavoidable, a capable criminal defense lawyer will thoroughly explore sentencing options to keep you out of jail. These alternatives include home confinement where you serve your jail sentence at home with an electronic bracelet, leaving only for work or for necessities of life. Other options include community service or doing labor for Caltrans. If jail is unavoidable a judge can allow you to serve your time in a “private” jail, (“pay and stay”), where you are released for up to 12 hours a day to go to work. Another option is to serve your jail time on the weekends–checking in Friday night and being released Sunday night. A competent criminal defense lawyer will zealously push to get you an alternative sentencing option.
If you don’t have a defense for the theft offense you are charged with, or if the DA’s evidence is not very strong, and if you are not inclined to accept whatever the DA is offering, your case will go to trial. Few cases make it to trial; maybe one in ten. At trial, the DA presents whatever admissible evidence they have against you to twelve ordinary citizens. The DA must prove every element of every charge against you by proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the highest evidentiary burden in law. Your attorney must persuasively point out the weaknesses of the DA’s case and skillfully present your defense if you have one.
In order to convict you, all twelve jurors must agree that the DA has proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt. If even one juror finds that the DA hasn’t met this heavy burden, then you can’t be convicted of a theft offense. (Hung jury) If all twelve jurors agree that the DA hasn’t met their burden of proving that you committed a theft crime, then a verdict of not guilty must be rendered.
Punishment For Theft
Generally speaking, theft of property valued at four hundred dollars or less is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail. (Petty Theft) If the property is valued over $950.00,, the theft crime is a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. (Grand Theft)
Burglary, (entering a place with the intent to commit a theft or other crime), of a house (or where someone lives) is punishable by up to six years in prison. Burglary of other places (such as a store) is punishable by up to three years in prison. The punishment for robbery, (taking property from the person of another), us punishable by up to nine years in prison.
California’s sentencing scheme is extremely complex. If a firearm is involved, if deadly force was used in the commission of a theft crime, or if you have a criminal record, the possible prison time skyrockets.
Free Telephonic Consultation With An Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer
The Law Office of EJ Stopyro offers a free and confidential telephonic consultation with an experienced Orange County criminal defense lawyer. Call us at (949) 559-5500 today. EJ will be happy to answer your questions, explain your options, and even evaluate your case right over the phone.