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Looting is a somewhat unusual crime because it is legally defined as an act of theft or burglary that specifically occurs during a state of emergency. To deter people from stealing during natural disasters or times of civil unrest, the state of California has strict penalties for those who are convicted of looting.
How Is Looting Legally Defined in Los Angeles?
Looting in the city of Los Angeles falls under general California laws against looting. California Penal Code 463 defines looting as committing an act of petty theft, grand theft, or burglary during a local or statewide state of emergency. A state of emergency is declared either by the governor for a statewide event or a city’s governing body for a citywide event. It can be any type of emergency that overwhelms and incapacitates the personnel, facilities, or services of an area. Typical reasons for a state of emergency include floods, fires, riots, earthquakes, or storms. Theft is legally defined as taking an item from another person without their consent, and depending on the value of the stolen item, a person can be charged with either petty or grand theft. Burglary is similar to theft, but it occurs when a person enters an uninhabited property with the intent of theft. Therefore, a person may be charged with looting for entering a store with the plan to take items without paying for them, even if the person does not actually succeed in stealing anything.
What Are the Penalties for Looting in Los Angeles?
The penalty for looting will depend on the precise nature of the crime. Being convicted of looting with petty theft, which is a theft of goods under the value of $950, results in a misdemeanor that has a maximum punishment of six months in jail, $1,000 in fines, and 80 hours of community service. The minimum punishment for looting with petty theft is misdemeanor probation and 90 days in jail, but a judge can choose not to assign even the minimum punishment. A person can be convicted of looting with grand theft if they stole items over the value of $950, a firearm, or a car. Looting with grand theft or burglary have the same penalties. A person can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. A misdemeanor charge has a maximum penalty of $1,000 in fines and 364 days in jail. A felony looting charge has a maximum penalty of $10,000 in fines, 16 months, two years, or three years in jail, felony probation, and 240 hours of community service. The minimum sentence is 180 days in jail for both misdemeanors and felonies.
What Are Good Legal Defenses Against Looting Charges?
Since looting happens during a state of unrest, it can be somewhat hard for a person to be convicted of looting. Sound evidence is often not available, and police often violate search and seizure laws. Therefore, a talented attorney can help you to avoid a conviction for looting. Commonly successful defenses include claiming that a person did not intend to burglarize a structure, showing that police did not follow due process, or proving that you were mistakenly identified as a looter. During an emergency, everything is very chaotic, so it can be somewhat easier to defend against looting charges.
The harsh penalties and mandatory minimum sentences can make it worrying to be charged with looting. However, our law firm can help you to get the ideal outcome for your case by avoiding felony charges or mounting a successful defense. Contact us today for assistance if you or someone you know has been charged with looting.