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.

Encinitas dentist & wife accused of stealing $260,000 from patients

Dr. Edward Bodek has been a dentist for almost 30 years. His wife, Mary Bodek, worked as his office manager at this dental office in Encinitas.

Prosecutors have charged the couple with using patient credit cards to rack up more than $260,000 in fraudulent charges.

“The patients are very loyal to Dr. Bodek,” said Deputy District Attorney Anna Winn. “They love Dr. Bodek and trust him. They’ve been his patients for years and they are elderly people who have complete faith in him.”

George Ravazzolo said he was a patient of Dr. Bodek for some 20 years.

“He was good. He was easy to deal with. He was very kind,” said Ravazzolo.

“I was very proud of him for being the kind of person who would go to assisted living centers and nursing homes, take care of the older people and it turned out he took advantage of them,” Ravazzolo told News 8 during an interview in his Carlsbad home.

In August, Ravazzolo went to Dr. Bodek for a $67 teeth cleaning and ended up with $8,000 in unauthorized charges on his credit card, he said.

“I’m so disappointed in him as a person for doing this, and I can’t understand why,” said Ravazzolo.

When federal agents served search warrants on the dental office and on the Bodeks’ apartment in Carlsbad, they found stacks of boxes and shopping bags, according to court records.

Agents also discovered 30 different storage units rented by the Bodeks, which were full of women’s clothing, high end handbags, and fur coats with the price tags still on them, the records show.

“When I heard he had 30 storage unit filled with this, all I could think of was hoarding. He’s a hoarder and he couldn’t help himself,” said Ravazzolo.

Dr. Bodek and his wife are now facing 45 felony counts involving 22 patients and more than 100 fraudulent credit card transactions. They could get up to 21 years in prison if convicted.

“I don’t know how he’s going to take it. I don’t think he good prison material at all,” said Ravazzolo.

Ravazzolo ended up getting his $8,000 back from his credit card company but other alleged victims were not so lucky.

Dr. Bodek and his wife remain in jail after the judge set bail at $1.5 million each.

Oakland Museum releases photo of the stolen jewel box (Sam Spital)

Commentary by Theft and Burglary Criminal Defense Attorney Sam Spital:

“The Examiner in their digital news on January 17, 2013 reported the Oakland Museum of California released a photo of a priceless gold encrusted jewel box created between around 1870 that was stolen earlier in the month. It was revealed this is the second theft and the police believe the same person may have been involved. Interestingly, the article noted the male suspect was seen on surveillance cameras entering a locked door. The article provides a description of the jewel box, the base and the legs to which it is connected.

The reporter did not provide any further information regarding the police investigation and/or suspect(s), did not report whether DNA was obtained nor whether the surveillance cameras provided a photo of the burglar that would be provided to the media to help identify his name and residence. Since this is the second major theft of historic artifacts, it is likely there is evidence the police may not desire revealing as part of their ongoing investigation.”

–Sam Spital

Ex-Border Patrol agent sentenced for theft, child porn (Sam Spital)

Commentary by Criminal Defense Lawyer SAM SPITAL:

“A former Border Patrol Officer convicted of interstate transportation of stolen goods, theft of government property and possession of nearly 400 photos of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct was reported by CBS8.com on January 14, 2013. The U.S. District Court Judge sentenced the defendant to 3 years in federal prison and was ordered to register as a sex offender (RSO) on his plea to the theft of night-vision goggles worth approximately $10,000 and a GPS unit worth under $100.

The story did not contain any facts regarding the defendant, his lawyer’s arguments nor position of the defense. Little was revealed as to the social and family history of the defendant nor evidence of mitigation and/or remorse. Accordingly, it is difficult to evaluate the case and offer any thoughts or opinions.”

—Sam Spital

Thieves lived off jewelry heists, casino robbery (Sam Spital)

COMMENTARY BY San Diego Theft Defense and Criminal Attorney Sam Spital:

“The UT San Diego news reported on December 3, 2012 two leaders of the robbery of multiple high-end jewelry stores and a casino in San Diego were found guilty and now face sentencing. Their crime spree began about a year ago and it was alleged their ‘team’ seized millions of dollars worth of merchandise and cash. Besides Barona Casino, Ben Bridge Jewerlers in Fashion Valley, they targeted expensive jewelry boutiques in malls throughout California, including Santa Clara, Riverside and Orange County.

The article did not include any statements made by the criminal defense counsel, such as either defendant expressing remorse, recognition of wrongdoing, their presentation of closing arguments and/or mitigation. It is likely the sentence will be life in prison. Whether print, broadcast or electronic, the news media in large part fails to provide a balanced account in reporting crimes so that the public is more fully informed.”

–Sam Spital

Thieves steal 16 fire hydrants from Redlands streets (Sam Spital)

“The Los Angeles Times on September 17, 2012 reported the neighboring community of Redlands Police Department are investigating a theft of approximately sixteen fire hydrants, valued at approximately $40,000. It is believed the fire hydrants were stolen for scrap metal; however, the risk to the public far outweighs any economic value since the Fire Department requires the hydrants in order to properly fight fire. As the price for metal continues to rise and there are serious economic problems facing a growing portion of the public, it seems some individuals are resorting to crime by stealing, among other things, fire hydrants, backflow devices and hydrants. At the same time, there are employers throughout California that have job openings that they are challenged to find applicants.

There are currently two Senate Bills in California awaiting the Governor’s signature that would make it a misdemeanor crime for junk dealers and recyclers to possess fire hydrants and manhole covers, as well as to hold them responsible for the costs of repair and/or replacement.”

SAM SPITAL, Criminal Defense Lawyer

Two men hold up pizza delivery man (Sam Spital)

“The Union Tribune on September 15, 2012, reported two individuals were arrested on suspicion of committing the crimes of kidnapping and carjacking.

They are charged with forcing their way into a pizza driver’s car and requiring him to drive to at least two other locations before fleeing.

It is possible the District Attorney will charge the two individuals with other criminal offenses due to the facts ( for example, using a knife or dangerous weapon).

The article did not, however, include any other information so it is unclear what took place at the two business locations, if anything. Hence, the motivation and intent of the suspects seems in question.
If anything of value was taken, it was also not reported by the writer. There would seem to be several issues for a criminal defense attorney to investigate and potentially argue given the above news account. Due to potential or actual conflicts of interest, each suspect should have his separate criminal defense lawyer.”

Sam Spital, Criminal Defense Lawyer

Woman falsely represents a licensed physician

“Nothing could be more personal than the care and treatment provided by a licensed physician. We place our trust and confidence in doctors and in turn expect them to apply their sound judgment to carry out proper medical protocols and procedures, and to provide the appropriate medical advice and services.

For anyone to falsely represent she is a licensed physician when not is at the very minimum unspeakable.

Even more troubling is the fact a lay person took a huge amount of money for her “alleged services” and injured an innocent victim who relied upon and was entitled to receive quality medical attention.

As a San Diego criminal defense attorney, at times we may not dispute criminality, but focus on the defendant’s recognition of wrongdoing. There may be a defense to the wrongdoing, but the emphasis can be on the punishment. Here, what should be taken into consideration are a host of special factors, such as remorse and the lack of a prior criminal record.

Not knowing anything more about this case than published in the news media, the best one can do is try not to be too judgmental. Once a complete life history of the defendant, an analysis of all of the facts and issues, and the elements of motivation and an individual’s mental state are known and considered, a criminal defense attorney can develop his strategy.”