California Petty Theft Laws: Detention and Civil Demands

Unless specifically set forth as grounds for Grand Theft, the Petty Theft laws apply, as follows:

  •  Petty Theft is often referred to as shoplifting; as a general rule it takes place when one obtains property by theft, that involves a value less than nine hundred fifty dollars ($950);
  • A first conviction generally constitutes and is punished as a misdemeanor. Penal Code Section 490 provides for a fine for each violation of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000), or up to six (6) months in the county jail, or both;
  • The prosecutor (District Attorney or City Attorney) has the discretion to charge the defendant as an infraction if the person has no prior theft or theft-related conviction (Section 490.1);
  • In addition to other civil remedies, the merchant can make a civil demand and collect up to five hundred dollars ($500), plus costs. In addition, the store may collect the retail value of the merchandise;
  • Pursuant to 490.5 (f) (1) of the Penal Code, a merchant may detain a person for a reasonable time to conduct an investigation if the merchant has probable cause to believe the person of interest unlawfully attempted to take or has unlawfully taken merchandise from the premises of the store.
  • A reasonable amount of force not likely to cause great bodily harm may be used if it is necessary and, therefore it becomes, justifiable, to protect oneself and/or to prevent the person who has been detained from fleeing &/or the loss of the merchant’s property;
  • Following the above principles, the merchant may request the person who has been detained to voluntarily surrender the item in question, and if refused, is permitted to conduct a reasonable search to recover the same. This involves and is limited to handbags, packages, shopping bags and/or other property possessed by the detained person; this search does not, however, encompass any clothing worn. Crimes Against Property:

Although a merchant may demand attorney’s fees or threaten to cause harm to a person’s credit, they do not have the power to do so [attorney’s fees are prohibited in such a case, and because there has been no adjudication of money owed, they cannot report someone to a credit bureau]. Also, it may be deemed a violation of State extortion and Federal collection laws for a merchant to threaten criminal &/or civil action

The facts and circumstances differ in one case from another and, therefore, the information in this Blog is not intended as legal advice.

Las Vegas couple pleads guilty to fake insurance scam

Michael and Melissa Woodward pleaded guilty Wednesday to state tax fraud and other charges. The Woodwards were charged with 11 counts each, including grand theft, tax fraud, residential burglary, theft from an elder and selling insurance without authorization.

The couple are alleged to have scammed 240 to 250 elderly people in San Diego County and 150 to 200 more people in the rest of California with fake insurance plans. In total, the victims lost about $3.6 million to the Woodwards. Other victims have been identified in Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, and Texas. Their crimes span 10 years.

Michael faces 11 years in jail, followed by parole and pay restitution. Melissa is looking at a year in jail and five years of probation, as well as payment of restitution.

Auto theft sting operation results in 64 arrests

After eight months of investigation, 64 people were arrested on Tuesday in connection with a network of North County auto theft rings.

“Operation Perfect Storm” had undercover detectives begin to infiltrate multiple unrelated operations starting in August, California Highway Patrol Commander Scott Parker said. The officers then proceeded to set up a storefront to buy stolen property.

92 stolen vehicles were seized during the operation, as well as 10,000 rounds of ammunition, nine guns, and drugs. Some stolen military gear was also recovered.

The 64 defendants were accused  in 30 separate cases back in May, with over 90 witnesses testifying in front of the grand jury. Over 50 arrests were made this past Tuesday, with 14 people remaining at large. Among those arrested were seven Marines and a sailor.

 

Target theft conviction clouds Auburn embezzlement suspect’s past (SAM SPITAL)

“In the news account dated August 30, 2012, the President of a Junior High School Parent Teacher’s Club is reported to have used the Club’s credit card one year prior to becoming its President to purchase for herself up to $4200 in merchandise from the Target store, which led to a current embezzlement charge. She also serves as Publicity Director for the Junior High School Football team.

Until all of the facts are known to be true, it is of no benefit to draw conclusions from reading the newspaper or listening to news accounts from media about anyone’s alleged criminality. At this point in an open criminal case the news media does not have the benefit of all of the facts and circumstances and, therefore, the public has even less because a reporter as a matter of course will selectively choose what events &/or actions to report in their account of a particular case. For example, if one entered the store with the intent to commit a crime, the charges would normally have been burglary, but the reporter did not include any such reference to additional charges brought by law enforcement and the prosecution. On the other hand, the reporter has sought to influence the reader’s opinion about the case at hand by including references to a prior grand theft conviction that took place about two (2) years ago.”

Sam Spital, Criminal Defense Lawyer.

No constitutional right to jigsaw puzzle in jail, judge says

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding an alleged criminal offense and its resulting trial and conviction, beginning a jail sentence is rarely an easy transition. As such, it can be comforting for defendants to have certain personal belongings in prison with them. But as a federal judge recently made clear, inmates have no constitutional right to those items, and are therefore at the mercy of the court and jail officials when seeking comforts from home.

In the case, an inmate who was serving time in a federal prison for his role in an alleged conspiracy to commit securities fraud requested that his family be able to order and bring him a jigsaw puzzle with which to play during his incarceration. Jail officials refused, and the inmate filed a lawsuit, alleging that his constitutional right to free speech had been violated by the refusal.

Specifically, the inmate argued that possessing the puzzle was an expression of free speech and was therefore protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The judge disagreed, ruling that the inmate had not shown a clear violation of his constitutional rights by the jail’s refusal to allow the puzzle.

The inmate also argued that the prison regulations that forbade the puzzle were unfair and baseless, and that there was no logical reason to ban a puzzle that was a similar size to an allowed book. The judge again disagreed, citing the “limitations on the ability of prisons to process and store inmate property” as the reason that books are allowed but puzzles are not.

What do you think? Should the jail have allowed the puzzle?

Firemen charged with robbery, felony assault, and threatening a witness

Three firefighters in San Diego pleaded not guilty to felony charges after they were accused of fighting with a pair of brothers, robbing and threatening three brothers. The firefighters, aged, 36, 26, and 29 were charged with robbery, threatening or intimidating a witness, making criminal threats and felony assault. According to reports, the firefighters also caused great bodily injury.

The prosecution stated that one of the alleged victims was leaving a bar when he was involved in a verbal altercation with the firefighters, one of whom made a derogatory comment. The firefighters then followed the man and assaulted him. After they left the bar, the alleged victim called his brother, then pursued the firefighters and there was another fight. It was reported that one of the firemen took a wallet from one of the brothers, removed cash, and a family photo. He also threatened him and said he has pictures of his children so he should not contact law enforcement.

When a police officer drove by and approached the firemen, they found the cash, bank card, and photos of the brothers. The firefighters pleaded not guilty and could face nine years in prison if they are convicted. All were jailed the night of the fight, but posted bail. They were off-duty at the time of the incident.

One of the firemen was a 12-year veteran of the Fire-Rescue Department. According to their defense attorneys, the firemen have strong ties to the community and continue to be employed at the fire department.

Defense attorneys have stated that the brothers were the aggressors and the firemen acted in self-defense. Defendants will face potential penalties enforced by the criminal justice system as well as any personal and professional consequences of a criminal allegation.