Theft by False Pretenses


If you’ve been charged with theft by false pretenses, a San Diego theft lawyer can defend you in court. An experienced criminal defense lawyer will work to have the charge reduced or the penalties of conviction minimized.

In some situations, theft doesn’t occur by someone walking out of the store without paying or breaking into a home and taking a TV. Stealing can be much more subtle. An individual can be charged with a theft crime when they intentionally convince someone by using lies to give them something. The thief can manipulate an individual to hand over ownership and possession of property based on false representations or pretenses.

What are False Pretenses?

Under California Penal Code §532, anyone who provides false statements, withholds important information, or makes promises they don’t intend to keep to another person in order to obtain property is guilty of theft by false pretense. This can happen in many different ways but each crime has the same parts.

The individual must intend to deceive the other person through the false pretenses. The individual made the false pretenses in order for the other person to voluntarily transfer ownership of property to them. The other person relied on the individual’s lies. Last, there must be proof of the false pretenses, such as a written note, a fake token, or the testimony of witnesses.

Unlike other theft charges in which someone takes possession of another person’s property, false pretenses requires that an individual gain ownership over the money or other property. Merely taking possession of property without becoming the new owner isn’t theft in this situation.

The California code looks at many examples of this offense, including individuals who lie about being a veteran in a war in which the U.S. was involved to receive aid, to purchase property, or to defraud, or any individual who falsely solicits money or property on behalf of a charity or religious organization.

Consequences of Conviction

An individual will either be charged with petty or grand theft by false pretenses based on the value of the property obtained.

For property worth less than $950, the charge will be petty theft, and the penalty is a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.

If the property is worth more than $950, is a gun or a car, then the charge is grand theft. The individual can be sent to jail for up to one year or prison for up to 3 years, depending on what the prosecutor seeks and whether the defense attorney can convince the court a lesser sentence is appropriate.

Defenses to Theft by False Pretenses

A common defense to theft by false pretenses is that you didn’t intend to deceive the alleged victim. Intentional deceptions are often the hardest element of a case to prove because what may seem like lies or false promises could actually be believed. No one can prove what someone was thinking, so even if you provided certain information to the other individual or you made certain promises, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you knew the information was a lie or that you never intended to keep your promise.

Your defense attorney can also argue mistake of fact, which means you ended up saying something that wasn’t true, but you never intended to deceive the other person. You may have been deceived by someone else and merely passed along information. Again, the element of intent is missing in order to be convicted of the crime.

Another common defense is that the alleged victim didn’t truly rely on what you said. Another element of the crime of false pretenses is that the other individual relied on the lies or false promises and that’s why they handed over the money or other property. One way another person can’t be said to have relied on the statements is if they knew them to be lies. Another way is if they would have transferred ownership of the property without you having made any statements or promises.

If you’re accused of withholding critical information from another individual, your attorney can argue you weren’t obligated to give that information to the alleged victim. If you didn’t have a fiduciary relationship with that person, you may have not been legally required to provide them with the information.

A San Diego Theft Lawyer Can Provide a Strong Defense

If you’ve been charged with petty theft by false pretenses, you may not take the charge entirely seriously. However, if you’re convicted, you’ll have a permanent criminal record and spend time in jail – time you could spend in school, working, and with your family and friends. After you’re released from jail, your conviction will follow you the rest of your life.

A charge of grand theft by false pretenses is even more serious. In addition to the permanent criminal record, you could lose years of your life to prison. Having served in prison can make it difficult to attend school, get a job, find housing, or be approved for loans.

An experienced San Diego criminal defense lawyer understands the life-long consequences of a criminal conviction and will do whatever they can within the law to prove your innocence. They’ll attack each part of the crime until a judge or jury can’t say each element happened beyond a reasonable doubt. For help on your case, call San Diego criminal defense attorney Jessica McElfresh at (858) 756-7107 today.