Under California Penal Code Section 484, “Every person who shall feloniously steal, take, carry, lead, or drive away the personal property of another, or who shall fraudulently appropriate property which has been entrusted to him or her, or who shall knowingly defraud any other person of money or personal property is guilty of theft.”
Penal Code Section 484 is designed to handle petty theft, the unlawful taking of property valued at $950 or less. The majority of petty theft cases involve physically stolen property, known legally as “theft by larceny.”
There are, however, other complex forms of petty theft. Here are the most common.
Theft by Fraud
You’ve stolen something under false pretenses if:
- You knowingly and intentionally deceived a property owner
- You intended to persuade the property owner to let you take possession and ownership of their property
- The property owner let you take possession and ownership of their property because of your deception
You have legally deceived a property owner if you gave information you knew to be false, failed to give information you had an obligation to provide, made a promise you couldn’t or didn’t intend to fulfill, or recklessly said something without any basis of truth.
Theft by Trick
You’ve stolen something by trick if:
- You obtained possession and ownership of property you knew someone else owned
- The property owner allowed you to obtain possession of the property because of your deception, but did not explicitly allow ownership
- When you obtained the property, you intended to keep it for a significant length of time
The difference between theft by trick and theft by fraud is, in a fraud case, the owner knowingly transferred formal ownership of the property in question. In a trick case, the owner never intended to transfer ownership.
A useful example of theft by trick is changing the label on a department store item to obtain a lower price at checkout. You tricked the cashier into gaining both possession and ownership of property. While you were given possession of the item, store policy kept you from legally obtaining ownership.
Theft by Embezzlement
You’ve stolen something by embezzlement if:
- The property owner entrusted the property to you
- The property owner trusted you
- You took or used the given property for your own benefit
- When you took the property, you intended to deprive the owner use of it
Unlike other types of theft, intention cannot serve as a defense in embezzlement. It doesn’t matter if you intended to return the property. If you denied access to the owner for any amount of time, you are considered guilty.
This is because most cases of embezzlement involve money. If you’ve been entrusted with money and spend it – even while intending to return it – and lose it, you risk hurting the property owner financially.
The most common example of embezzlement is when company owners or managers siphon money from the company to fund their own interests. Often, these owners intend to return the money, but lose control.
Contact an Experienced Criminal Law Attorney for Representation
Have you been charged with petty theft under California Penal Code Section 484? Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Elden Law Group. We take pride in developing a strong legal defense our clients, ensuring a fair and reasonable outcome.