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Theft is a common offense.  Many people might have gotten away with shoplifting or another small theft crime in their distant past – or recent past.  In many cases, theft goes unpunished, but thousands of other cases each year are prosecuted and lead to serious penalties like criminal fines and jail time.  If you or a loved one committed a theft offense, it may only be a matter of time before the authorities catch up with you and arrest you for the offense.  However, police only have a limited amount of time to arrest and charge you with a theft offense.  Our Ventura theft defense lawyers at The Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth explain what the statute of limitations is for theft in California, and how long the government has to bring charges against you.

What is the California Statute of Limitations for Stealing?

Every type of legal case has a filing deadline.  This is called the “statute of limitations,” because it is part of a legal statute that limits how long they can take before bringing the case against you.  Both civil and criminal cases have statutes of limitations.  If the government waits too long to file the charges against you, they may lose their opportunity to charge you at all.

In California, the statute of limitations for a crime is based on the grade of the crime.  Theft is classified as different levels of crime depending on the value of the stolen items, and other factors.  The government has a limited amount of time to file these charges against you, but more severe crimes give them a longer time period under the statute of limitations.  Overall:

  • If the theft offense is a misdemeanor offense, they have 1 year to charge you.
  • If the theft offense is a felony, they have 4 years to charge you.

Most petty theft charges or general theft charges are misdemeanors, but some grand theft charges are classified as felonies.

The grading of your crime as either a felony or misdemeanor depends on what you stole and how much it was worth.  In most cases, the crime is upgraded to a felony if the value of the stolen items is over $950.  However, there are other rules regarding stealing farm crops, firearms, or cars, which might increase the penalties to a felony.

The statute of limitations only requires that the charges are filed within the deadline.  The government still has more time to build the case against you, arrest you, issue a court summons, and try the case at trial.  This also means that if the charges are filed and you are released on bail, you cannot beat the charges by delaying the case.  By the time you are formally charged, the government already beat the statute of limitations, and you must address them in court to have charges dropped or dismissed.

If you are charged with a theft offense years after it was committed, talk to a criminal defense lawyer today.  Reducing the grading or raising the statute of limitations as a defense may force a judge to drop the charges against you.

Receiving Stolen Property and the Statute of Limitations for Theft

In many cases, the statute of limitations for theft does not come up.  Police usually investigate crimes and recover the stolen property within a few weeks after the theft.  If they have not charged and arrested you by then, it is unlikely (but not impossible) that charges would resurface years later.  However, there is another crime that you could be charged with at nearly any time.

California has a separate theft offense called “receiving stolen property” (commonly abbreviated RSP).  This crime under Penal Code § 496 makes it illegal to possess stolen property.  The statutes of limitations are similar for this offense, giving the government one year to charge you with a misdemeanor or 4 years to charge you with a felony.  However, this crime may be classified as a “continuing offense” or “continuing crime,” which makes it harder to run from the offense.

Since the crime makes it illegal to possess stolen property, as long as you have the stolen property in your possession, you are still committing the crime.  This means that if you stole a painting 5 years ago, and it is hanging in your living room, you continue to commit the crime of receiving stolen property every day.  Since the crime is not yet completed, the statute of limitations doesn’t start to run.

This continuing offense doctrine means that the government can charge you with RSP whenever they find you with stolen property.  Even if you stole it decades ago, you could still face punishment for the offense.  While they may be too late to charge you with theft itself, police and prosecutors may still try to punish you for possessing stolen property.

Theft Defense Attorneys in Ventura, CA Offering Free Consultations

If you or a loved one was charged with theft or receiving stolen property, talk to an attorney today.  The government only has a limited time to charge you with older theft offenses, and charges that come too late can be dropped or dismissed.  For a free consultation on your theft case, contact the Ventura criminal defense lawyers at The Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth today at (805) 585-5056.

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The Law Offices of Bamieh & Erickson, PLC

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Santa Barbara, CA 93101
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