California Penal Code 488 refers to any charges of theft or fraud under the value of $950. This is classified commonly as petty theft, but the claim is not always accurate in some cases. These charges are primarily considered misdemeanors in prosecution, but there can also be extenuating circumstances that can result in felony charges. Individuals who are charged with multiple counts of theft under $950 could be charged by the aggregate amount of all items stolen. Even though the legal reference is petty theft, the actual damage can be much more serious depending on the illegal activity and the number of defendants involved.
Theft occurs when an individual moves another individual’s property without authorization. The intent to steal is not always necessary. This often occurs in a simple shoplifting case when the suspect is caught in a store and has not passed the checkout with a concealed item. Theft can also occur by unlawful taking of a private individual’s personal property. Public or commercial theft is also not necessary. Even borrowing an item without permission can be claimed by the owner as theft, even though the court may be reluctant to prosecute minor incidents. Petty theft cases can be just as complicated as major theft cases and the criminal record result can impact the defendant’s life for many years.
Other forms of petty theft can include fraud, misrepresentation, and embezzlement. Embezzlement is often associated with employers or organizations, which also supports the possibility that cases falling under the 488 penal code can also escalate to more serious charges. The same is true of fraud and false representation, but this also depends on the material case facts used in prosecution. Many times a plea bargain can include a reduction of charges to prosecution under the 488 penal code when an experienced and effective criminal defense attorney can present a solid defense to the court.
While petty theft is often viewed as a minor criminal charge, it is important to remember that even criminal charges can damage the defendant’s life for years to come. Even when the court does not win the conviction, the case is still publicly accessible unless your attorney ensures that a dismissed charge is also expunged. This is not done automatically by the court. Expungement is issued on a case basis and each charge or conviction must qualify. This is a very important legal motion that always requires an attorney.
Fighting a penal code 488 petty theft charge being prosecuted on borderline or weak evidence can be just as difficult as an obvious case of theft. A solid criminal defense attorney will understand how to craft a case to the court against the charges, possibly convincing the prosecutor of case dismissal when the case is weak. However, the novice defendant usually cannot bargain for a dismissal. Anyone facing a petty theft charge in California should contact our law firm for a case evaluation on the possibility of dismissal or charge reduction. Retaining a criminal defense attorney to fight a theft charge is clearly an investment in your future.