Accomplished Orange County Defense Firm
Available 24/7 to Answer Your Call 949-251-0330
Back to Top

Defenses Against Theft Crimes

Facing Theft Charges in California?

Being charged with a theft offense can be a stressful and confusing experience. California law encompasses a broad range of theft offenses, and navigating the legal system alone can be daunting. This blog explores potential defense strategies against such charges..

First, let's establish a clear understanding of theft under California law. The Penal Code Section 484 defines theft as the unlawful taking of someone else's property with the intent to permanently deprive them of it. This definition encompasses various scenarios, from shoplifting to embezzlement.

Legal Strategies for Defense

Asserting Lack of Intent

One of the foundational elements of theft is intent. Without the intent to “deprive” the owner of the allegedly stolen goods, a key component of the crime is missing, which can be a powerful defense. Legal representation may focus on demonstrating that the accused did not have the requisite intent to commit theft, perhaps due to a misunderstanding or miscommunication.

Evidence such as witness testimony, communication records, and behavior patterns can all contribute to substantiating this claim. The success of this defense often hinges on the ability to paint a clear picture of the defendant's state of mind at the time of the alleged crime, showing that there was no criminal intention.

Proving a Claim of Right or Ownership

Another defense strategy is the claim of right or ownership, where the defendant asserts that they believed in good faith that the property in question belonged to them or that they had a legitimate claim to it. This defense challenges the prosecution's assertion of unlawful taking by introducing evidence such as receipts, ownership documents, or testimony that supports the defendant's belief. It's a nuanced argument that requires a thorough understanding of property rights and can be particularly effective if the defendant can demonstrate they were acting under a genuine—and reasonable—belief of entitlement.

Examining Asportation

A critical element of any theft charge in California is asportation, which refers to the movement of the stolen goods. Without asportation, theft cannot be proven. To successfully challenge a theft accusation on this basis, your defense attorney will need to demonstrate that asportation never occurred. This means establishing that one or more of the following elements were not met:

  • Severance from possession. The goods were never removed from the owner's control. Perhaps you simply picked up an item to examine it without intending to take it.
  • Complete possession. You never truly held complete control of the goods. Maybe you were holding an item for someone else when they unexpectedly grabbed it back.
  • Movement (no matter how slight). The goods were not moved at all, or any movement was so minimal it wouldn't constitute asportation. For instance, perhaps you changed your mind about taking an item and placed it back exactly where you found it.

Challenging the Evidence

The strength of the prosecution's case often relies on the quality and legality of the evidence presented. A key defense strategy is to meticulously review this evidence for any weaknesses or irregularities. This could involve questioning the chain of custody, highlighting inconsistencies in witness statements, or disputing the relevance and admissibility of certain pieces of evidence. By casting doubt on the evidence, the defense can undermine the prosecution's case, potentially leading to reduced charges or even a dismissal.

Exposing Improper Law Enforcement Conduct

Law enforcement officers are bound by strict procedures and constitutional rights that must be respected during criminal investigations. If these procedures are not followed, it can provide a solid foundation for a defense. For example, if evidence was obtained through an unlawful search and seizure, it may be excluded from the trial, significantly weakening the prosecution's case.

Defense attorneys will closely examine the conduct of the officers involved, looking for any actions that violated their client's rights, such as a lack of probable cause. Exposing such misconduct can be a game-changer in the outcome of a theft case.

Discuss Your Case with Our Team

Please understand that every case is unique, and this blog is not a substitute for qualified legal counsel. If you or a loved one are under investigation or have been charged with a crime, it is important that you consult with a qualified attorney, as they can offer more specific counsel.

Corrigan Welbourn Stokke, APLC offers quality counsel to those facing theft charges. Whether you are facing robbery, burglary, embezzlement, petty theft, grand theft, or other theft-related charges, you can trust our team to help you. From counseling you in the development of a comprehensive defense plan to helping you make informed case decisions and answering any questions you have, our team can walk beside you in this legal journey. We have successfully defended clients against a variety of theft charges, as evidenced by our case results.

Call (949) 251-0330 to request a case consultation today.