Theft by False Pretenses California Theft Lawyer – PC 532
Under California Penal Code section 532, any person who knowingly and designedly, by any false or fraudulent representation or pretense, defrauds another to obtain title to money, labor, or real personal property is guilty of theft by false pretenses.
In order to convict you of theft by false pretenses, the prosecution must prove the following:
- You knowingly and intentionally deceived a property owner by false or fraudulent representation or pretense AND
- You did so intending to persuade the owner to let you take possession and ownership of the property AND
- The owner let you take possession and ownership of the property because the owner relied on the representation of pretense
In order to prove the existence of a false pretense, the prosecution must show:
- The false pretense was accompanied by either a writing or false token OR
- There was a note or memorandum of the pretense that you handwrote or signed OR
- Testimony from two witnesses or testimony from a single witness along with other evidence that supports the conclusion that you made the false pretense
Title vs. possession
Contrary to other theft related offenses, theft by false pretenses requires that you obtained title or ownership to the property rather than simple possession. Obtaining title means that the original owner must have transferred the rights of ownership to the property itself. Certificates of ownership such as the pink slip to a car are sufficient to transfer ownership rights in the property. Title to money can also be transferred if the owner willingly hands it over to you with the intent that you keep it.
False or fraudulent representation or pretense
A false pretense is any act, word, symbol or token, the purpose of which is to deceive. You make a false pretense if, intending to deceive, you do one or more of the following:
- Give information you know is false
- Make a misrepresentation recklessly and without information that justifies a reasonable belief in its truth
- Do not give information when you have an obligation to do so
- Make a promise not intending to do what you promised
In order to be convicted of theft by false pretenses, the prosecution must prove that you knowingly and intentionally deceived the property owner through some sort of misrepresentation. In other words, you must have lied about some present or past material fact as a means to gain title to the property from the owner. For example: You own an art gallery and a buyer approaches you and asks you about a painting you have on display. You lie and tell the buyer that it is the original print of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and that its value has been appraised at a $500,000. In reality, the painting is a reprinted copy that is virtually worthless. Relying on your representation, the buyer hands you $500,000 in cash in exchange for the worthless painting and a forged certificate of authenticity. Since you obtained title to the $500,000 through a false representation of material fact, you can be found guilty of theft by false pretenses.
Reliance on your misrepresentation
The owner must have given you title to the property because he relied on your misrepresentation. An owner relies on false pretense if the falsehood is an important part of the reason the owner decides to give up the property. In other words, the owner would not have transferred title to the property but for your misrepresentation of a material fact. Although the false pretense must be an important factor, it does not have to be the only factor the owner considers when making the decision. This is a matter of causation. If the owner would have given you title to the property regardless of your fraudulent conduct, he did not rely on your misrepresentation.
Defense 1 – You did not give information you knew or reasonably should have known was false
It is a defense to theft by false pretenses if you gave information that you did not know or reasonably should have known was false. If you did not know that the information you gave to the victim was false, you lack the intent to defraud and cannot be convicted of this offense. Although you may have given incorrect or inaccurate information, you yourself may have also been deceived or misled as to the accuracy of this information. Your attorney can argue that you did not give information that you knew was false and had no reason to believe that the source of the information was misleading you.
Defense 2 – You did not have an obligation to give information
If you are accused of withholding information, but you did not have an obligation to release this information to the victim, you cannot be convicted of theft by false pretense. You have an obligation to give information to the victim if you stand in a fiduciary relationship with that person. A fiduciary relationship exists where one places complete confidence in another in regard to a particular transaction or one’s general affairs or business. Therefore if you are a broker, lawyer, doctor, financial adviser or any other position where your clients place complete trust in your decision making due to your specialized knowledge, you stand in a fiduciary relationship with those clients. However a fiduciary relationship can exist between two people, even if you do not work in a professional capacity for that person, if that person places complete confidence in your decision-making. If you are accused of withholding material information, your attorney can argue that there was no fiduciary relationship established between you and the victim and therefore you had no obligation to release this information to him.
Defense 3 – You made a promise and intended to do what you promised
You cannot be convicted of theft by false pretense if you made a promise as a means to obtain title to property, and you intended to do what you promised, even if you did not ultimately carry the promise out. For example: You promise to pay the owner of a flat screen TV $1,000 at a later date if he gives you title to the TV right now. You fully intended to pay the owner of the television on that date, but recent financial problems make it impossible for you to perform your promise. You attorney can argue that although you did not carry out your promise, you truly intended to perform your obligation at the time the promise was made.
Let us show you how we protect our own
If you are facing misdemeanor or felony charges of theft by false pretenses in California (PC 532), you must call one of our theft lawyers experienced in theft by false pretenses, misdemeanor or felony larceny, theft by tricks, embezzlement or felony grand theft. Our criminal defense attorneys have over 30 years of experience representing clients facing all types of criminal matters throughout Southern California. With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, Victorville, West Covina, Los Angeles and San Diego, your theft attorneys at Wallin & Klarich are ready to provide you with immediate assistance on your criminal case.
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