Theft by False Pretense
Theft by false pretense is a type of theft that can be charged in California. The following information explains what this theft crime is and includes the elements that the prosecutor must prove, which is the same instruction that the jury reads to determine a verdict.
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The defendant is charged with [grand/petty] theft by false pretense in violation of Penal Code section 484.
To prove that the defendant is guilty of this crime, the People must prove that:
- The defendant knowingly and intentionally deceived a property owner [or the owner’s agent] by false or fraudulent representation or pretense;
- The defendant did so intending to persuade the owner [or the owner’s agent] to let the defendant [or another person] take possession and ownership of the property;
- The owner [or the owner’s agent] let the defendant [or another person] take possession and ownership of the property because the owner [or the owner’s agent] relied on the representation or pretense; AND
- When the defendant acted, (he/she) intended (to deprive the owner of the property permanently/ [or] to remove it from the owner’s [or owner’s agent’s] possession for so extended a period of time that the owner would be deprived of a major portion of the value or enjoyment of the property).
You may not find the defendant guilty of this crime unless the People have proved that:
- The false pretense was accompanied by either a writing or false token; OR
- There was a note or memorandum of the pretense signed or handwritten by the defendant; OR
- Testimony from two witnesses or testimony from a single witness along with other evidence supports the conclusion that the defendant made the pretense.]
Property includes money, labor, and real or personal property.
A false pretense is any act, word, symbol, or token the purpose of which is to deceive.
Someone makes a false pretense if, intending to deceive, he or she does [one or more of] the following:
- Gives information he or she knows is false, OR
- Makes a misrepresentation recklessly without information that justifies a reasonable belief in its truth, OR
- Does not give information when he or she has an obligation to do so, OR
- Makes a promise not intending to do what he or she promises.
Proof that the representation or pretense was false is not enough by itself to prove that the defendant intended to deceive.
Proof that the defendant did not perform as promised is not enough by itself to prove that the defendant did not intend to perform as promised.
A false token is a document or object that is not authentic, but appears to be, and is used to deceive.
For petty theft, the property taken can be of any value, no matter how slight.
[An owner [or an owner’s agent] relies on false pretense, if the falsehood is an important part of the reason the owner [or agent] decides to give up the property. The false pretense must be an important factor, but it does not have to be the only factor the owner [or agent] considers in making the decision. [If the owner [or agent] gives up property some time after the pretense is made, the owner [or agent] must do so because he or she relies on the pretense.]]
[An agent is someone to whom the owner has given complete or partial authority and control over the owner’s property.]