Can I Still Be Charged With Theft If I Return the Property?

September 13, 2022 by Seppi Esfandi in California  
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Stolen Property

The answer to this question may not be immediately apparent. Knowing the definition of theft in the California Penal Code is the first step in answering the question.

Theft is often classified as either “petty” (involving less than $1,000) or “grand” (involving $10,000 or more). Theft having a value of less than $950 is considered petty theft. Theft of a motor vehicle or firearm, for example, with a value over $950, falls under the category of “grand theft.” The prosecution must prove the following to convict you of theft (PC Section 484) or grand theft (PC Section 487).

  • You have illegally taken control of another person’s property.
  • You seized the property without the owner’s consent and intended to deprive the owner of any claim to it permanently.
  • You moved the possessions somewhere else, even if just a short distance away, and you’ve kept them there for some time.

But what if I want to give the property back?

Theft charges are possible even if the stolen object is returned. But that is purpose-dependent. The prosecution must show that you stole the item with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of it to convict you of theft. This is a very high bar to clear. The accusations against you may be withdrawn if your counsel successfully argues that you had no intent to retain possession of the item. There are several scenarios where someone might give back an item they stole. Some examples include:

  • You left a store with something you hadn’t planned to steal, only to discover it at the bottom of your cart when you got home.
  • You felt guilty about taking something and trying to make amends by giving it back to its rightful owner.
  • You turned in a stolen item in exchange for a monetary reward or shop credit.

Accidental theft

Those familiar with the concept of purpose will see that returning a lost or misplaced item is not the same as stealing if the loss or misplacement resulted from an honest mistake. Neither a shop nor an individual would likely pursue legal action against a customer who returned an accidentally stolen item. But you might face charges if you accidentally take anything, discover it’s missing, and don’t return it to its owner. The circumstances depend on the nature of the property, but they may be able to establish that you knew it was stolen but still intended to retain it. But the penalties would probably be light.

Regretful Product Return

Things take a turn for the better when one thinks of instances in which a thief experienced remorse and returned an item they had stolen. It was always meant to be kept forever in this case. Even if someone returns what they stole, they might still be prosecuted for the theft if they had any intent to keep the object. The amount you get back has no bearing on the cost. The defendant intentionally and permanently removed the property, all the evidence the prosecution needs to pursue justice. However, this does not pardon you for the need to give back whatever you’ve wrongfully stolen. The judge may reduce your punishment if you give back what you stole. If you apologize to the court, they will probably reduce your sentence. The court will likely impose harsher theft penalties if you merely retain the item.

Trading in a stolen product for money or store credit

Thefts that fall under this category may be committed in a few different ways. Law enforcement will likely interrogate you if you return something you were given and have no idea it was stolen. You probably won’t get in too much trouble if you can demonstrate that you had no idea the item was stolen. On the other hand, if you sought to return an item you knew was stolen in exchange for money or shop credit, you would be committing a felony. The theft will be treated as either petty or grand, depending on the value of the stolen object.

Theft consequences

The severity of the consequences rests on the purpose, evidence, and if the object was returned. The courts may consider your regret if you return stolen property during the sentence. If you don’t have an attorney, they may charge you with the maximum term for your offense.

  • Petty theft may lead to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine.
  • Shoplifting is a misdemeanor with a maximum six-month prison sentence and a $1,000 fine.
  • Misdemeanor grand theft carries a one-year prison term and a $1,000 fine.
  • Felony grand theft carries a maximum three-year prison term and a $10,000 fine.

Do You Need a Lawyer?

If you or a loved one are facing theft charges in Los Angeles California, you need to hire a defense attorney who has long-standing professional relationships with Judges and District Attorneys, as well as a proven track record. Don’t panic. We’re here to help.

Need an Attorney? CALL NOW: 310-274-6529

Seppi Esfandi is an Expert Attorney who has over 21 years of practice defending a variety of cases.

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Lara S.
December 3, 2019
Seppi had my case reduced to just an infraction, and thanks to him I was able to keep my job. Jorge was extremely helpful too, the reason I went with this law firm. Overall pleased.

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