Surprise, You’ve Committed a Crime! The Charge of Theft by False Pretenses

| Gazette, Police Blotter | January 23, 2014

By Robin Sandoval

There is a different kind of theft on California’s books — one which might not seem so clear cut when a person is arrested with it. As a matter of fact, some people charged with this crime are not aware that they have committed a crime at all. The crime in question falls under Penal Code 532 PC and is known as theft by “false pretenses.”

To commit theft by “false pretenses,” an individual must lie to someone in order to persuade him or her to give over property or something of value.

In order to be convicted of violating Penal Code 532 PC, it must be proven that an individual intentionally deceived someone in order to obtain his/her property or something of value. Now, the definitions of “true” and “false” can be a matter of lengthy philosophical debate. As such, California law paints the distinction with broad strokes. For instance, a statement can fall under “false pretense” if:

It is made recklessly, without knowledge that it is absolutely not true, yet with no supporting knowledge that it is true
You withhold information that you would normally give under the circumstances
You make a promise that you do not intend to keep


Another key element required to convict someone of theft by “false pretenses” is that the victim must have given up his/her property because they were relying specifically on what a person told him/her. For example, the “false pretense” must be a deciding factor in the transaction.

The last important piece that a prosecutor must have in order to prove it was theft by “false pretenses” is actual proof of the “false pretense” by way of: counterfeit money, a contract that recorded the false pretense, witness testimony from two witnesses to the false pretense, witness testimony from one witness plus another corroborating piece of evidence.

If convicted of theft by false pretenses, the sentence a defendant will face depends on the amount of the merchandise stolen, just like in a regular theft case.

If the amount is less than $950, it is generally considered a “petty theft,” misdemeanor and can result in up to six months in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

If the value of the property taken is more than $950 (including a car or firearm, even if it is valued at less than $950) it becomes a case of grand theft. Grand theft can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances of the case, unless the item stolen was a firearm. If it is a firearm, it is generally charged as a felony.

Misdemeanor convictions of grand theft can include up to one year in county jail. Felony convictions, however, can carry penalties from 16 months to three years in a California State prison.

Robin Sandoval is a California Licensed Bail Bondsman and owner of SCV Bail Bonds. Robin writes blogs and articles to help increase community awareness of the bail industry. If you have questions or want to suggest a topic, email robin@scvbailbonds.com, visit www.scvbailbonds.com or call 661-299-2245.

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