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Statute of Limitations: California Theft

by Lindsay Chambers

Under California law, the statute of limitations is the maximum period in which a prosecutor can file criminal charges. If the prosecution tries to charge you after this applicable time has elapsed, you are within your legal rights to have the case dismissed. According to California law, theft is a “wobbler,” which means the judge can choose to rule it as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the crime’s severity, the facts surrounding the case and the defendant’s criminal history. The statute of limitations for California theft varies depending on whether the theft is a misdemeanor or a felony.  

Misdemeanor and Felony Theft Statute of Limitations

In California, there are different categories of theft. If you get charged with a misdemeanor offense such as petty theft, shoplifting or receiving stolen property (valued at $950 or less), the statute of limitations is typically one year. If the prosecution does not bring charges during this one-year period, they will lose the right to file them in the future.

If a judge rules that a theft is a felony crime, California Penal Code 801 defines the statute of limitations to bring a charge as three years. Some examples of California theft offenses that often get charged as a felony are robbery, first-degree burglary and grand theft of a firearm.

Why Does the Law Allow a Statute of Limitations on California Theft?

The statute of limitations aims to ensure fairness for defendants. As time goes by, evidence often gets lost or destroyed. Any witnesses to the crime may also struggle to accurately recall specific details of the case. The statute of limitations is in place because it would be unreasonable to pursue criminal charges against someone after a specific time window has closed.

However, it’s worth noting that some crimes do not have a statute of limitations. For example, California Penal Code 799 states that a prosecutor can bring charges of the following crimes at any time:

  • Offenses punishable by death, such as murder or treason
  • Embezzling public funds
  • Felony rape offenses
  • Crimes punished by imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole

In general, the statute of limitations window begins when the crime occurs. But in circumstances where it’s challenging to discover the crime or a victim might be afraid to come forward, the law could allow the prosecution more time to file. For instance, California law gives the prosecution a year to file some sex offense charges, starting from the date the survivor reports the crime.

Your Experienced Southern California Defense Attorney

Understanding the complexities of California law can be challenging. If you are facing a criminal conviction, you need experienced representation by your side when you appear in court. At the Law Office of Ron Brower, we’ve been successfully defending people for more than 45 years, so you can depend on us to treat your case with the respect and understanding it deserves. Learn more about our past results, then reach out to us today to learn more.

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