What is the California Statute of Limitations for Theft?

theft charge

Did you expect a simple answer to this simple question? Under California law, the statute of limitations might be one year, three years, or four years for a theft crime, depending on the circumstances. The clock might start running at the time of the crime, or months, even years later. Three years of limitation might stretch over the course of a much longer period of time, and possibly never expire.

When does the statute of limitations begin?

Not necessarily at the time of the crime! Rather, the limitation begins at the time the victim or a law enforcement official becomes aware of the theft. In a case of embezzlement or theft of an infrequently used object, that might be months or years. If, at the time of the crime, the victim was under legal age, insane, or imprisoned, the clock does not start running until the victim reaches legal age, is declared sane, or is released from prison. If the defendant leaves the state after the crime was committed, the time out of state is not part of the limited time.

Determining the statute of limitations for theft crimes

The statute of limitations for theft is determined by the longest sentence that could be imposed for the crime. For simple misdemeanor theft (petty theft), where the value of stolen property is under $950, the statute of limitations is one year. For grand theft, or a theft that can be charged as a felony, the statute is typically three years, and in a few cases, four years.

Grand theft, petty theft and other property crimes

Grand theft includes taking property is valued at more than $950; taking a farm crop, domestic fowls, or seafood valued at more than $250; an employee taking $950 or more over the course of 12 months; a group of people taking a total of $950 or more; a robbery (taking property off the person of the victim); and taking an automobile , domestic production animal, or a firearm. Felony theft charges also apply when the crime involves breach of fiduciary duty, theft from an elderly person, or theft by a public officer or employee. Grand theft is a wobbler crime, and can be prosecuted as a felony or a misdemeanor. The statute of limitations for a wobbler crime, typically three years, is determined by the maximum sentence that could apply. If a theft is charged as a felony because the defendant has prior convictions, the statute of limitations is three years. Petty theft (theft of property less than $950 in value) and check forgery cases are misdemeanors, unless the c rime meets one of the above standards. The statute of limitations for misdemeanor theft is one year. The statute of limitations for filing a charge of property damage, fraud, or theft of an article of historical, interpretive, scientific, or artistic significance is three years. If theft includes embezzlement of public funds, there is no statute of limitations. Fraud offenses have a four-year statute of limitations. Even if nothing was taken, a defendant can be charged with attempted theft or burglary (allegedly entering the premises with intent to commit a crime.)

Defense against theft charges

A criminal defense lawyer may successfully get theft charges dismissed by demonstrating that the stature of limitations had expired before charges were filed. Evidence to support the defense could include time out of state, the defendant’s minor status at the time of the crime, and incorrect valuation of stolen goods. If charges cannot be dismissed, the attorney will work with the prosecution to have the crime charged as a misdemeanor rather than a felony. When a case has been charged, the defense counsel will bring to the court’s attention any dispute of ownership, insufficient evidence, or failure of witnesses to support the charge.