Among the things that California law seeks to protect is personal property. There are several laws in place to protect people's property against crimes like theft and vandalism. However, it is not unusual to find people committing property-related crimes even when there are apparent laws against it. Penalties for those found guilty of such crimes are substantial and may include lengthy prison terms and hefty penalties.
The only way to avoid such penalties is by seeking the help of an experienced criminal attorney. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we offer excellent legal services that could help you avoid a conviction. Therefore, if you are in San Jose, CA, and face charges for property crimes, get in touch with us today.
Overview of Property Crimes in California
Property crimes are prevalent in California, as with the rest of the country. It is because the majority of the common crimes fall under the general category of property crimes. It includes people who steal or destroy other people's property.
Property crimes can range in severity, from a minor case of shoplifting and vandalism to significant offenses such as arson and robbery with violence. The state of California has provided laws on each of these crimes separately, to cover what the offense entails and how it is punishable by law.
Most property crimes do not require you to steal or destroy another person’s property. An offense such as burglary will, for instance, only need you to have the intent to commit an offense while in another person's property. If the prosecutor can demonstrate that intent, the person could face a firm conviction that involves serving time in jail or prison and paying a hefty penalty.
Other offenses under property crimes require you to be found in actual possession of the stolen property. Either way, it is crucial to understand what each of these offenses entails and what their potential punishments are to be well prepared in case of a conviction.
Some offenses under California property crimes are graded in a spectrum of degrees. This is based on several factors, such as their severity and whether it was the offender's first time to commit the same offense in a given period. Such crimes are, for instance, robbery.
A person will get a certain degree of robbery charge depending on the value of the property stolen, whether they used arms or dangerous weapons to commit the offense, and whether they caused their victims' bodily injury. If you are facing charges for a California property crime, working with an experienced criminal attorney will help you understand your situation and the options you have for a fair trial.
Types of California Property Crimes and their Implications
California law provides that any person who commits a property crime must face a felony or misdemeanor conviction, depending on the severity of the offense. Since there are so many types of property crimes covered under California law, it may be confusing for the offender if all were to be treated the same.
Crimes involving vandalism are, for instance, charged according to the amount of damage the offender has caused. Those who steal other people’s property are charged according to the value of the property stolen. Here are the most common types of California property crimes and their implications:
Damaging Phone, Electrical, and Utility Lines
California laws against damaging the phone, utility and electrical lines are provided under Section 591 of the Penal Code. According to this law, it is a criminal offense for any person to maliciously remove, disconnect, obstruct or damage telephone or electrical wires or cables or any equipment connected to them. The offense is committed when a person does the following:
- Removes, take down, damages, cuts, obstructs, or disconnects a telephone, telegraph, electrical line, or television cable or any equipment that has been connected to such lines
- performed the above acts illegally and maliciously
Those are the facts the prosecutor must prove in court for you to be found guilty under Section 591. You can still be found liable under this law if you made an unauthorized connection with electrical lines. However, this does not apply to telephone lines, telegraph and TV cables.
Example: A burglar cuts the telephone wire of a home he/she hopes to steal some expensive jewelry. He/she does so to prevent the homeowner from calling the police in the event they realize that their home has been invaded. If the burglar is apprehended, he/she will face two charges: one for burglary and another for damaging phone lines.
Note that there is a severe form of this offense, mainly committed by people who cut phone lines or damage the phone equipment to prevent domestic violence victims from calling for help. When the offense is committed as a way to prevent a person from getting help, the offender will be found guilty under Section 591.5 of California Laws.
If you are under suspicion of committing a property crime under Section 591 of California laws, you could face either a felony or misdemeanor charge. This is because this offense is a wobbler in California. The prosecutor will decide whether to charge you with a felony or misdemeanor depending on the offense’s facts, nature, and criminal history.
If you get a misdemeanor conviction, the punishment will be as follows:
- A maximum of one year in jail
- A maximum fine of $1000
- Both a jail term and fine
on the other hand, if you get a felony conviction, the punishment will be as follows:
- Formal or felony probation
- 16 months, 2 or 3 years in prison under the state’s realignment program
- A maximum fine of $10,000
Trespassing is also a property crime in California and is committed when a person remains in or enters another person's property without the owner's consent/ authorization. The law against trespassing in California is Section 602 of the Penal Code. Several activities qualify as criminal trespassing in the state, including:
- Entering another person’s property intending to cause damage
- Entering another person’s property intending to obstruct the ongoing business
- Entering and inhabiting another person’s property without their authorization
- Refusing to vacate another person’s property even after a request
From these examples, there are definite elements of this crime that the prosecutor must prove in court for you to be guilty under Section 602. These are:
- You willfully entered another person’s property
- You did so with the specific intent of interfering with the property owner's rights
- You violated the owner’s property rights. This could have been through interfering with their business or damaging their property
Note that the prosecutor must prove that you willfully entered another person’s property. Willfully, in this case, means on purpose or deliberately. Again, there must be proof that you had a specific intent. There also must be proof that the intention was accomplished.
California laws treat the crime of trespassing differently, depending on the facts of your case and criminal history. For that reason, you could be charged with an infraction, misdemeanor, and in rare circumstances, felony.
The simplest form of trespassing in the state is treated as an infraction. The penalties for an infraction could be:
- A fine of not more than $75 for first offenders
- A fine of not more than $250 for second offenders who have violated the law twice in the same property
If a person commits a simple trespassing offense on the same property thrice, he/she will be charged with a misdemeanor. The penalties the offender could face if found guilty of misdemeanor trespassing includes:
- Summary or misdemeanor probation
- A maximum of six months in county jail
- A fine of not more than $1000
Specific forms of trespassing can be charged as misdemeanor crimes but will carry a longer jail term of up to one year. For example, you refuse to leave the shelter of battered women even after the manager asked you.
Additionally, there are aggravated forms of trespassing, which are charged as felony offenses in the state. An aggravated trespass offense could occur when:
- A person makes a credible threat to another person to cause them serious injuries, intending to cause that person to fear for their safety or safety of their close family members
- When that person enters their victim's workplace or property within 30 days of issuing the threat, intending to carry out their threat
Aggravated trespass offense is treated as a wobbler. It means that it could be charged as a felony or misdemeanor. The prosecutor will make this decision based on the facts of the case and the offender’s criminal history.
A misdemeanor aggravated trespass in the state is punishable with a maximum of one year behind bars or a fine of not more than $2000. If the offender gets a felony conviction, they could face 16 months, 2 or 3 years of incarceration, or felony probation.
Vandalism is also a type of property crime in California that is committed when a person maliciously destroys, defaces, or damages another person's property. The law against vandalism is covered under PC 594. The offense could be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the damaged or destroyed property’s worth.
Like most property crimes, vandalism is an offense that could take so many forms. While some are straightforward, others are not. It is essential to understand what this offense entails when you are arrested and charged with California vandalism.
To understand this offense better, let us look into the facts of the case. They are the elements of the offense that the prosecutor must prove before the court for you to be found guilty:
- That you maliciously destroyed, damaged, or defaced another person's property. Defacing could have been done by the use of graffiti or any other inscribed material
- That you did not have any rights to that property
- That the amount of property damaged was valuable. If less than $400, the offense will be a misdemeanor, but if more than $400, it will be a felony
There is no straightforward punishment for a person that has been found guilty of vandalism in California. However, there are sentencing guidelines that the judge will use to announce his/her punishment after trial.
As mentioned above, a misdemeanor case of vandalism in the state occurs when the value of the property vandalized is not more than $400. The punishment for this would be:
- A maximum of one year in jail
- A fine of $1000 or a maximum of $5000 if the offender has a prior conviction of a similar offense
- Summary or misdemeanor probation
Probation will be given in place of the first two penalties listed above. If you are sent on probation, you must agree to certain conditions, including:
- Suspension of your driver’s license for a maximum of two years. If you do not have a license, you will face a delay in obtaining one for between one and three years
- Mandatory requirement to undergo counseling
- Mandatory requirement to undertake community service. It may include repairing, cleaning, or replacement of damaged property
- Being held responsible for the maintenance of the damaged property in their community for a period not exceeding one year
When the value of the property vandalized exceeds $400, the offense becomes a wobbler in California. It means that the prosecutor can charge it as a felony or a misdemeanor. His/her decision will be based on the offender's criminal history and the circumstances of the case.
If charged with a misdemeanor for vandalizing property worth more than $400, you could face the following penalties:
- A maximum of one year behind bars
- A maximum fine of $10,000 or even $50,000 if the cost of the damage was valued at $10,000 or more.
- Misdemeanor probation with such conditions as listed above
If, on the other hand, the offender is charged with a felony offense for vandalism, their punishment could be:
- Felony probation after serving one year in jail, or 16 months, 2 or 3 years behind bars
- A fine of not more than $10,000 or up to $50,000 if the cost of the damages is $10,000 or more
- Felony probation with similar conditions as listed above
Note that if a person has been convicted of vandalism at least twice, and was sent on probation at least once, they will be required to serve a full prison or jail time for the current offense.
California arson falls under the general category of property crimes. It is the offense committed when a person maliciously and willfully sets fire or burns a property, structure, or forest land. California arson laws are detailed under Section 451 of the state laws. A conviction of arson in the state could land you in prison for up to nine years.
The proper legal definition of this offense applies to the willful and malicious burning of property, forest land, and structure. The prosecutor must prove certain elements of the offense in court for the offender to be found guilty. These elements are:
- That you burned, set fire, or caused a forest land, structure, or property to burn
- That your actions were both willful and malicious
Note that the offense will still be considered arson even if only a small part of the said structure or property was burned. Something simple as a charred wood could be used as evidence that indeed, the burning took place.
Violation of Section 451 of California laws is considered a felony offense. However, punishments vary, based on the following:
- The type and nature of the property or structure that burned
- Whether or not a person suffered an injury in the process
The likely punishment for the offense will be:
- Sixteen months, two or three years of imprisonment for offenders who are found guilty of maliciously burning personal property
- Two, four or six years of imprisonment for those found guilty of causing a structure or forest land to burn
- Three, five or eight years of incarceration if the affected property was an inhabited property or structure
- Five, seven or nine years of imprisonment if the offender’s actions caused another person serious physical injuries
Possible Legal Defenses Against property Crimes Charges in California
Just like other criminal acts in California, property crimes are taken very seriously. This is seen in the kind of punishments offenders get after conviction. The only way to avoid such hefty penalties not to be found guilty of the charges you are facing. This is possible through the help of an experienced criminal attorney. A competent criminal attorney will use several defense strategies to defend your actions. He/she could convince the court to either drop or reduce your charges. Some of the most common defense strategies that could be useful in this case include:
It is not unusual to find people facing false allegations and wrongful arrests for criminal acts in California. If this happens to you, your attorney should prove this to the court. You could be falsely accused of vandalism or arson for several reasons, including the desire to take revenge, jealousy, or pure malice.
The prosecutor will be tasked with showing all the elements of the case before the court, and so, if you have been falsely accused, he/she may fail in that mandate. Your attorney could also take the chance to prove that you were not anywhere near the said property at the time the offense was committed.
Just like false accusations, you can easily be mistaken for another and accused of committing an offense you did not commit in the first place. This is possible if you resemble a real offender’s physical appearance, are relatives/friends, or live in the same place. If that happens to you, your attorney is only needed to prove that you are not the actual perpetrator. Note that the court will not require you to name the real offender.
No Willful Act
Property crimes, including theft and vandalism, require you to commit the offenses willfully. This is a challenge for the prosecutor because it is not easy to prove a person’s intent. Your attorney could take advantage of that to argue that you did not act willfully. It could have been an accident. If he/she manages to convince the court, you could face lesser charges or have your charges dropped.
Many criminal offenders avoid conviction due to insufficient evidence. As mentioned above, all the elements of the specific offense you are charged with must be fully satisfied for him/her to be found guilty. The prosecutor may be able to satisfy some elements, but not all. In that case, the court will not have enough evidence to convict you. Lack of enough evidence could lead to a conviction of a lesser offense or acquittal.
Find a California Criminal Lawyer Near Me
If you are facing charges for California property crimes, you may be confused and worried. A conviction could leave you paying hefty fines and serving time behind bars. Working with an experienced criminal attorney is the only way to avoid such penalties. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we could help you get a fair hearing and a favorable outcome. Call us at 408-622-0204 if you are in San Jose, CA, and let us plan a good defense against your charges.