Theft

Fake Pizza Delivery Leads to Home Invasion in Palo Alto (CA Penal Code 459)

There are many different ways in which home invasions occur; this story, however, is one of the strangest yet. Allegedly, a family of 5 were in their home on Arastradero Road in Palo Alto when someone rang the doorbell. According to witness statements, a man was standing near the doorway with a pizza box, insisting that a pie had been ordered. When the family’s grown daughter attempted to close the door, the ‘pizza delivery guy’ and 2 others forcibly entered the home. They were thwarted when the father appeared and seem to have simply run away without taking anything from the home or doing much harm otherwise than frightening the entire family. The suspects have yet to be apprehended, but will face home invasion charges if and when they are.

Pursuant to California Penal Code 459, a ‘burglary’ is said to have occurred when unwelcome persons enter the residence of another person without the permission of the person that lives there, and with the intent of committing a felony or petty theft.. When an individual or individuals break into a home or place of residence while the residents are at home, then it is considered first degree or ‘residential’ burglary. Normally, the penalties for this type of felony burglary charge includes up to 6 years in state prison. However, when a home invasion is concerned, the perpetrator or perpetrators may also be charged with criminal trespass (CA Penal Code 602) or aggravated trespass (CA Penal Code 601).

Concord Dealership Test Driver Charged with Grand Theft (CA Penal Code 487(d)(1))

A Concord dealership employee claims that an unidentified man kidnapped him and stole a 2015 Chevy van during what was supposed to be a test drive of the vehicle. Allegedly, when the man started off on the test drive, he informed the employee that he was actually stealing the car and taking the employee with him. The supposed victim was able to escape when the 2 stopped in Pittsburg and members of the Antioch police force were able to apprehend the suspect later that day. He was charged with theft of a vehicle, kidnapping, and resisting arrest.

California law is strict when it comes to the theft of a vehicle. In fact, the crime (more commonly known as ‘grand theft automobile’), actually consists of 2 different charges. Frist, under California Penal Code 487(d)(1), it is considered ‘grand theft’ when an individual steals property valued over $950. Second, the theft of a vehicle (CA Vehicle Code 10851) is the crime often referred to as ‘joyriding.’ Depending upon the length of time an individual seems to plan to take the vehicle, either or both offenses could apply. If you planned to take the vehicle for a short period of time, you will likely be charged with ‘joyriding,’ whereas if you planned to take the vehicle permanently, you will be charged with its theft.

Both crimes are California ‘wobblers,’ meaning that the decision as to whether to treat it as a misdemeanor or as a felony is left up to prosecutors to determine, based on the facts of the individual case. For example, when a person steals a vehicle, they are normally charged with felony GTA and could face up to 3 years in county jail. However, joyriding is most often treated as a misdemeanor, carrying with it a potential $5,000 fine and a term of 1 year in county.

Airport Carjacking Suspect Wounded By Police (CA Penal Code 215)

A red Honda was recently taken from an individual while at the local airport. Witnesses claim that the alleged thief crashed the car into a light pole, exited the vehicle with a backpack, and was then shot in the stomach by a police officer. He remains in stable condition in a local hospital. Upon release, he will almost certainly be charged with a California carjacking crime.

While most media reporters have chosen to focus on the fact that a law enforcement official wounded the suspect, it will be the purpose here to set forth what may happen to anyone accused of the crime of carjacking. Similar to robbery cases, a key component of California carjacking law (CA Penal Code 215) is the use of ‘force or fear.’ This means that a person attempting to steal a car from another individual must do it, not only in the presence of that other person, but through the use of either threats or through the use of force. What this amounts to is a serious crime.

Carjacking is always considered a felony in California. Oftentimes, someone accused of carjacking is also accused, at the same time, with a robbery, battery, grand theft auto, or assault charge, depending on the facts of the case.   If convicted, the person involved in the carjacking at the airport may face anywhere from 3 to 9 years in state prison. Even if he does not end up going to prison, he will be subject to probation and a potential $10,000 fine.

San Jose Cake Shop Patrons Robbed at Gunpoint (CA Penal Code 211)

If recent Bay area crime history is taken into account, it seems that robberies in places like cake shops and bakeries are becoming less and less unusual.  At the end of last month, for example, the Nothing Bundt Cakes shop in San Jose found its patrons being robbed at gunpoint by an as yet unidentified man.  Although local law enforcement agents are working hard to identify the man through video surveillance footage, and by sending the still shots of the robber to media outlets, they have yet to close the case.  The alleged robber seems to have simply walked into the bakery, pulled out a handgun, and emptied the wallets of terrified customers.

Briefly, it is useful to note that California law makes a clear distinction between two terms that we normally consider being synonyms ‘burglary’ and ‘robbery.’  In the case above, the crime that was allegedly committed was ‘robbery,’ as it involved taking individual persons’ property from their immediate presence with the use of force or fear (CA Penal Code 211).

Penalties for California robbery convictions are quite harsh.  First, the crime of robbery is always considered a felony.  Of course, there are two types of robbery: first-degree and second-degree.  First-degree robbery, occurring in an inhabited building, on public transport, or near an ATM, could mean up to 9 years in a California state prison.  A second-degree robbery conviction, however, which refers to any other type of robbery, may mean facing up to only 5 years in state prison.

San Jose Minor Robbed at Gunpoint (CA Penal Code 211)

Cases involving home invasion are becoming more and more common these days, but this story is particularly disturbing considering it involved a young girl.  On the 1200 block of Ranchero Way in San Jose, a 10-year-old girl happened to be at home when 2 men knocked at her door.  Unaware that they wished her any harm, the girl opened the door, allowing the men to force their way into her home.  There, one of them allegedly held a gun to her head while the other stole various pieces of valuable property, including cash.  The suspects remain at large.

In the state of California, there is a distinct difference made, by law, between the crime of ‘robbery’ and the crime of ‘burglary.’  In order for a particular violation of the law to be considered ‘robbery’ (CA Penal Code 211), property must be taken from a person, against their will, and from their immediate presence.  Force and fear must also have been used.  ‘Burglary’ (CA Penal Code 459), on the other hand, involves actually entering a building, vehicle, or room for the express purpose of committing a felony.

There are two different types of California burglary, first-degree and second-degree.  First degree (often referred to as ‘residential burglary’) is always treated as a felony offense.  Penalties include up to 6 years in state prison, and a strike under California’s Three Strikes Law.  A crime may only be considered ‘burglary’ if the perpetrators entered a structure that is inhabited, like the girl’s home above.  An inhabited structure is defined as any place where a person sleeps or lives.

Two Women Face Charges of Grand Theft in S.F. Stonestown Galleria (CA Penal Code 484 and 459.5)

Two young women were  the alleged culprits in a 24-pair sunglass shoplifting spree that lasted only about 1 minute.  The women simply grabbed approximately $7,000 worth of store property before running off with the loot.  They were caught by store surveillance cameras and local law enforcement officials hope to identify the women soon.  If caught, they face charges of grand theft.

Although we have termed these women’s crime ‘shoplifting,’ under California law, it is actually considered ‘theft.’  According to California Penal Code 484 and 459.5, their violation of the law cannot be considered either ‘petty theft’ or ‘shoplifting.’  In order for those laws to apply, the value of the merchandise or property taken must be under $950.  When the property or merchandise in question is valued at more than $950, CA PC 487 (‘grand theft’) more appropriately applies.  Even ‘shoplifting’ sunglasses valued at over $950 could be considered grand theft.

Usually, grand theft is a California ‘wobbler,’ meaning that it is up to prosecutors assigned to the case to determine whether they will treat the crime as a misdemeanor or as a felony.  In other words, these women could face the same penalties as someone who embezzled thousands of dollars from a company or someone who broke into another person’s home to steal over $950 worth of property.  If convicted on misdemeanor grand theft charges, these ladies could find themselves facing up to 1 year in county jail; if prosecutors decide to treat it as a felony, they could spend up to 3 years each in state prison.

 

Juvenile named as accomplice in Home Invasion Robbery (CA Penal Code 211)

San Jose has been newly introduced to a strange crime, some of the details of which have yet to be determined.   According to local law enforcement agents, a 17-year-old boy plotted with 2 of his fellow students, known gang members, to carry out a home invasion at his own home.  Although the 2 gang members were the ones to actually invade the home on Shiloh Place in Evergreen, the son stands accused of setting the whole thing up.  His motivation remains unknown, but what is known is that the 2 youths entered the home, grabbed knives from the kitchen, and sought out 2 women and a young girl who were in the home.  The 3 alleged victims survived by locking themselves in a bathroom.  All three young persons, plus a fourth, have been charged with gang crimes, burglary, and robbery.  Prosecutors in Santa Clara County claim that they will be tried as adults.

While the crime of ‘burglary’ is the actual entering of a structure, room, or vehicle with the intent to commit a particular crime (CA Penal Code 459), ‘robbery’ (CA Penal Code 211) is the taking of property from an actual person in their presence.  Robbery is a violation of California law that is always treated as a felony.  A first-degree robbery conviction may end in up to 9 years in prison, while a second-degree robbery conviction may mean up to 5 years in state prison.  Penalties for first-degree burglary, also always treated as a felony, may, on the other hand, end in up to 6 years in state prison.

The fate of these 4 boys (ages 16 to 22 years) remains to be seen.  However, it is certain that prosecutors are already considering gang sentencing enhancements as part of the charges (see CA Penal Code 186.22).  Technically called the “California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act,” or STEP, sets forth the possibility for extra time in prison when a particular crime can be tied to gang-related activity.  For example, anyone committing a felony in order to help their gang may be sentenced to an extra 15 years to 25-to-life in addition to the normal sentence for their crime.

 

Mountain View Man Arrested for Selling Stolen Property (CA Penal Code 496)

Oftentimes, when property is stolen, law enforcement officials encourage victims to search for their items in pawn shops and on online venues.  For one set of homeowners, a Craigslist search proved fruitful in this respect.  After a delivered package was stolen from a home in Palo Alto (a new awning for the very porch it was taken from), the owner decided to try to find his property, valued at about $250.  Upon hearing about the advertisement, local police set up a sting operation designed to get the perpetrator to sell the item to an officer.  It worked; the 39-year old Mountain View man was arrested after attempting to sell the stolen property to a law enforcement officer and on various drug possession charges.

California Penal Code 496 (termed ‘Receiving Stolen Property’) addresses various crimes related to the possession, sale, or receipt of stolen property.  Any individual who is caught receiving, buying, hiding, or selling stolen property could be prosecuted under this section of the law.  Additionally, prosecutors must be able to prove that a) the property in question was, indeed, stolen; b) the person attempting to sell the stolen property should have reasonably known that the property was stolen; and c) the person is actually in possession of these stolen goods.

This crime is what is known as a ‘wobbler,’ meaning that it is up to the prosecutors handling the case to determine whether to treat it as a misdemeanor or as a felony.  Usually, this decision is made on the basis of the value of the property.  In other words, if the property in question is valued at over $400, then prosecutors will likely treat it as a felony; if it is valued at under $400, they will likely treat it as a misdemeanor.  If a violation of CA PC 496 is treated as a misdemeanor, penalties include up to 1 year in county jail and a $1,000 fine.  However, if the violation is treated as a felony, a convicted individual may expect to spend up to 3 years in county jail and pay a $10,000 fine.

 

Statue of Jesus Stolen from Castro Valley Church (CA Penal Code 487)

A Castro Valley Catholic church, the Church of the Transfiguration on East Castro Valley Boulevard, is missing one of its most important religious icons, a 200-pound, bronze, life-size statue of Jesus on the cross.  It is a unique work, irreplaceable, and its value can never truly be calculated.  However, it was commissioned to a particular artist through a Canadian company in 2006, meaning it likely cost the church a pretty penny.

California law is quite clear on the matter of theft.  There are, in fact, two types of theft defined by the California Penal Code, the most serious of which is ‘Grand Theft’ (CA Penal Code 487).  Generally speaking, ‘theft,’ is described as any illegal ‘taking’ of another person’s property without their express permission.  The kind of property in question matters very little; its value, however, matters a great deal.  If, for example, an individual were to steal property valued at or under $950, then this crime would be considered ‘petty theft’ (CA PC 484/488) and the legal consequences for having been found guilty of this crime would be rather light.

Comparatively, when the value of property that has been illegally taken is over the $950 mark, as the statue of Jesus in the story above very likely is, it is considered ‘grand theft.’  Usually, the crime of ‘grand theft’ is a ‘wobbler’ in California, meaning that prosecutors may, on their own, decide whether they will treat the offense as a misdemeanor or as a felony grand theft.  Their decision, in turn, is based on the facts in each specific case.  Thus, the thieves who stole the statue from the garden of the Church of the Transfiguration may be looking at anywhere from 1 year in county jail (if it is treated as a misdemeanor) or 3 years in state prison (if treated as a felony).  The faithful of the Church of Transfiguration have publically stated that they will accept the return of their statue, no questions asked and no charges laid.

 

Gas Station Nozzle Switch Theft on The Rise (CA Penal Code 484 & 495.5)

If you’ve noticed something strange happening at gas stations in the Bay area lately, you might not be alone.  Here’s what happens:  someone comes up to the gas station pump and brings one of the nozzles over to the other side of the gas tank.  Why, you might ask?  So that when a paying customer drives up, they foot the bill, even though the gas is being pumped into someone else’s car!  You may drive away with an empty tank and light on funds.  As ingenious and simple as this scam is, it has fooled hundreds of folks already.  However, it amounts to nothing less than theft.

When property, even gasoline, has been taken, it is considered theft by California law (‘petty theft’ or ‘grand theft’ depending on whether the property taken was valued at under or over $950).  California Penal Code 484 and 459.5 defines theft very simply:  taking someone else’s property without their permission.  While it may seem odd to think of gasoline as a possession, under the law it is no different than any other property.  Penalties for petty theft, which is what these nozzle switch scammers would be accused of in each instance, include up to 6 months in county jail and a $1,000 fine.

However, if you’ve been taken in by this scam already, then there is little hope of ever seeing your funds (or gasoline!) returned.  Sometimes a gas station clerk or owner will reimburse you for the price of the gas you lost, but others are not as sympathetic.  Certainly, law enforcement agents have no way of knowing who stole your gas, even gas station security cameras often make it difficult to see the license plates of these thieves.  The best protection for consumers is to be aware, if something looks out of place at the pump, its best to take a good look around before authorizing a purchase.