Law Offices of William V. Pernik

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Crimes against property, codified in Title 13 of the California Penal Code, include many common offenses that relate to theft or destruction of, or interference with, someone else’s property, including public property. These crimes can range from low level misdemeanors to general felonies, and in some situations, even serious or violent strikes, such as residential burglary or robbery.

Misdemeanor or Felony

Whether a particular property crime is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depends on a variety of factors. Some property crimes are statutorily defined as either misdemeanors or felonies, while many others are “wobblers” and can be prosecuted as either, depending on factors such as the total loss or damage amount, circumstances of the crime, and defendant’s criminal record, to name a few.

Classification of a crime as a misdemeanor or a felony can have significant consequences for the defendant. If you are only charged with a misdemeanor, the maximum sentence for most property offenses is either 6 months or one year, whereas a conviction for a felony property crime could carry a lengthy sentence in the local jail, or in the state prison. 

If the crime involves an entry into a residence with intent to commit theft or a felony, you may be charged with a strike offense of residential burglary under Penal Code section 459, carrying a maximum of 6 years in state prison. In addition, property takings accomplished by use of force or fear may result in felony charges of extortion under Penal Code sections 518-524, or robbery under Penal Code section 211, which is also a strike.

Specific vs. General Intent Crimes

One of the common issues that arises in defending property crimes is whether or not the person who had committed the offense acted with required criminal intent or mental state. The two types of criminal intent commonly disputed in these cases are 1) general intent and 2) specific intent.

General intent property crimes, such as vandalism, require the government to prove not only that the defendant had commit a prohibited act, but that he or she had done so willfully and intentionally, or in other words, non-accidentally. (See Penal Code 594(a); CALCRIM 251).

However, most property crimes, and all theft-related crimes, require the government to prove not only that the defendant had committed an intentional act, but that he or she did so with some additional specific intent specified by the statute, usually intent to steal, or intent to commit some further felony. If the government cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant acted with required intent or mental state, the defendant is entitled to an acquittal.

Mental Illness, Intoxication, and Organic Brain Trauma

Because so many property crimes require proof of specific intent, it is important to be represented by an attorney who understands factors that can impair or negate the formation of that cognitive state of mind. Severe intoxication, mental disorder, disability, and/or organic brain damage may result in a person committing an act without having the required intent or mental state. Accordingly, these conditions need to be thoroughly investigated by the attorney, corroborated by expert witness testimony when necessary, and effectively presented to the court or jury.

Civil Compromise under Penal Code sections 1377-1379

In misdemeanor cases involving theft or damage of property, it is often possible to avoid a criminal conviction by compensating the wronged or injured party and requesting the court, in its discretion, to dismiss the action upon receipt of the victim’s acknowledgement that he or she has been fully satisfied. By statute, this creative remedy does not require the agreement of the District Attorney, often allowing a skilled practitioner to bypass a prosecutor who is refusing to  reduce or dismiss a criminal charge.

Even if civil compromise as a remedy is not available to you based on the type of charge, often it may be possible to negotiate a plea to a less serious offense or reduced sentence in exchange of payment of restitution.


At Law Offices of William V. Pernik, you will be working with a skilled defense attorney who has literally defended hundreds of persons charged with property crimes. Mr. Pernik’s trial record includes acquittals on many property crime charges, such as theft, residential burglary, robbery, and more. In many other cases, he has been able to negotiate reduction of felony charges to misdemeanors, misdemeanor charges to infractions, and outright dismissals. 

If you or your loved one is accused of committing a property crime, do not wait until it is too late to get help. Call our office today to schedule your initial consultation.

Property Crimes

Please contact Law Offices of William V. Pernik for a free and confidential consultation. Experienced representation is just a phone call away.