We are all in the midst of our holiday shopping and store thefts are at its peak during this time. I just finished a trial involving a nurse who had a prior theft conviction and whose nursing license is subject to revocation due to this conviction. Thus, it is important that the best “offer” from the prosecution is obtained by your criminal defense attorney.
A shoplifting or any type of theft conviction, especially in such a competitive employment environment will negatively impact your employment opportunities, getting your professional license and even getting your citizenship. Questions such as, “Is this person dishonest?” “Is this person untrustworthy?” or even “Will this person steal from me?”
But for many who are confronted by a loss prevention officer of a retail store and a police officer afterward, there may be a reasonable explanation. Some examples are, “I was going to the car to get my purse which I forgot.” “My kids were crying etc. and I forgot to pay for some of the items.” But keep in mind, these explanations have been heard before by security, the cops and even the prosecutors that will be handling your criminal case. An effective criminal defense attorney must show concrete evidence that you did not intend to steal and demonstrate this defense accordingly.
The difference between a petty theft and grand theft is the value of the services and the punishment of the crime. The amount is statutorily defined. In California, items or services that are valued at $950 or less and anything over that amount will be filed as a grand theft crime. As for grand theft, based on the review of the defendant’s criminal background and the facts of the case, it could be filed as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
Stealing a car of any value can be charged as grand theft auto. If the person enters a structure intending to commit a theft inside, commercial burglary charge in addition to a petty theft or grand theft charge can be added. Breaking into a locked vehicle in order to steal constitutes auto burglary. If the defendant buys or receives items he/she knows to be stolen, the charge of receiving stolen property will be filed. If the person uses threats, force, a firearm to steal someone’s immediate possession on that person, it will be a robbery.
The intent to steal element is crucial to the prosecutor’s case. Without that intent, there is no theft. Once the intent to take the item is established, the slightest movement will suffice. Another element that may be an issue is the value of the item taken. For example, when Lindsay Lohan was arrested for theft at a jewelry store, a debate arose as to the “true” value of the item. Do you calculate the wholesale value of an item or the retail price?
For personal property, the “reasonable fair market” value controls. This is the highest price that a typical buyer would pay a typical seller for the item at that time and in that general location. For services, the contract price prevails. If there was no contracted price, the reasonable and going rate will be used.
Theft is considered a “crime of moral turpitude.” Prospective employers could be hesitant to employ you if they do not think they can trust you. The goal is achieve a disposition that does not leave a permanent “mark” on your record. For example, I had recently been hired by a client whose Public Defender pled her to a petty theft charge for 2 baseball hats. She had no prior criminal record and certain mitigating factors should have been considered to get this case dismissed outright or to proceed by way of a “deferred judgment.”
Again, the key is a thoughtful criminal defense attorney that will make it a priority to foresee how such a conviction could impact future employment, future licensing issues such as nursing, medical, attorney, and even being deported. There are a wide variety of defenses available in this type of offenses but the key is critically presenting them to the prosecution so a fair and reasonable disposition for both sides could be reached.