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Theft by False Pretenses Law in California – Penal Code Section 532

Posted by Philip Israels | Jun 11, 2019

The crime of “theft by false pretenses” is defined under California Penal Code Section 532. This statutes criminalizes the act of convincing someone to voluntarily give you anything of value after you used false or fraudulent representation.  In simple terms, it means you lied or made false promises in order to trick somebody into giving you their money or property.

Under California law, this type of theft crime is another form of theft, but it's committed by using deception and lies as opposed to any form of physical force. If you are charged with theft by false pretenses under PC 532, you could be facing similar legal consequences as someone charged with other common types of theft offenses, such as burglary.

If you are convicted, the legal penalties will depend on the total value of the items that were obtained through your deception. It should be noted you can also face criminal charges under Penal Code 532, if the prosecutor can show you in intentionally omitted information that you were obligated to provide them.

A “false pretense” is described as an act or word, where the intent is to deceive another person. This means you can make a false pretense in a situation where you purposely deceive another individual by telling them something you know is false, make them promises you never had intent on keeping, don't provide them with obligated details, or make reckless misrepresentations.

A theft by false pretenses offense is similar to many California white collar crimes that involve fraud, such as credit card fraud, insurance fraud, senior fraud, and check fraud. The primary element of the crime in proving a theft by false pretenses is showing evidence you knowingly deceived someone by using some type of misrepresentation.

If you have been accused of theft by false pretenses, our experienced California criminal defense lawyers can review the details of your case in order to determine the best strategy to defend you. Let's review the theft by false pretenses law below.

Legal Definition of Theft by False Pretenses – Penal Code 532

California Penal Code 532 defines theft by false pretenses as follows:

  • Anyone who knowingly by any false or fraudulent representation or pretense, defrauds someone of money, labor, property, or who causes someone to report falsely of their wealth, or obtains credit and fraudulently gets possession of money or property, or obtains labor of someone is guilty of theft by false pretenses. The legal punishment is the same extent as for larceny of the money or property so obtained.

As you can see above, you can face criminal charges of theft by false pretenses for lying in order to convince somebody to hand over their property or something that has value. In order to convict you of PC 532, the prosecutor has to prove all the elements of the crime, including the following:

  • You intentionally deceived another person by a false pretense
  • Your specific intent was to convince them to give you their property
  • The alleged victim allowed you to take possession of their property because their relied on your false representation
  • After you received the property, your intent was to deprive the owner for a period of time or permanently

It should be noted a “false pretense” covers a wide range of behavior, but defined as any any act, word, or symbol, where the purpose is to deceive someone. This means a false pretense can include making reckless statements, but keep in mind that “intent” is the primary factor in any prosecution of this theft crime. Another primary factor in pursuing this type of case is showing the victim relied on your false statements in order to give up their property.

What are the Legal Penalties? 

If convicted of theft by false pretenses under penal Code Section 532, the penalties will always depend on the total value of the property or money that was taken. For example, if the total value was less than $950, it's a misdemeanor petty theft, which carries a penalty of up to 6 months in county jail and a fine up to $1,000.

If the value exceeded $950, you could face grand theft charges, which is known as a “wobbler,” meaning the case could be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony crime. If you are convicted, the penalties include up to 3 years in a California state prison.

Legal Defenses for Theft by False Pretenses

There are a wide range of potential legal defenses for charges of theft by false pretenses in violation of California Penal Code 532. Every case is unique and will first require a close review of the details by our experienced criminal defense lawyers. However, the most common defenses include:

Lack of intent to deceive: As stated above, the primary element of the crime the prosecutor must be able to prove is that you intentionally deceived someone to gain their property. In some cases, this could prove difficult to actually prove. Perhaps we could make a valid argument you reasonably believed what you were telling them was true. In other words, you never had an intent to deceive them. The prosecutor has the burden of proof beyond any reasonable doubt.

Lack of reliance: As discussed above, the prosecutor has to also prove the victim relied on your information to give you their property. This element of the crime can also be difficult to prove in some cases because it involves the issue of motive. Perhaps we could make a reasonable argument the alleged victim didn't rely on your information that lead them to their decision to give you their property.

If you are in a situation where you have been accused of misdemeanor of felony charges of theft by false pretenses in violation of California Penal Code Section 532, you should consult with our skilled criminal defense attorneys to review the specific details.

Don't make any statements to police as you might incriminate yourself. We need to closely review all the information to plan an effective defense strategy to obtain the best possible outcome. Over our decades of practice in criminal law, we have a record of success in all theft related cases.

About the Author

Philip Israels

Phil Israels was raised in California's Central Valley where he still has family. After graduating from the University of California at Berkeley where he was a member for Zeta Beta Tau fraternity and studied Economics, he continued his education...

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