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What Does Theft by False Pretenses Mean in Criminal Law?


The crime of “theft by false pretenses” is defined under California Penal Code Section 532 PC, which can occur in many different ways.

This law prohibits defrauding someone of their money or property by using false promises, such as persuading them to voluntarily give up something of value due to fraudulent representation.

In other words, this type of theft crime is accomplished through deception rather than using physical force to take someone’s property.

A “false pretense” is defined as any word or act if the intent is to deceive somebody, such as:

  • Giving somebody information you know is false,
  • Making promises you have no intention of actually keeping,
  • Failing to give somebody information you are obligated to provide,
  • Making a reckless misrepresentation to somebody.

Theft can take many different forms.  I’ve been practicing criminal law now for 30 years, and I’ve seen prosecutors and police come up with all kinds of different angles related to theft crimes.Theft by False Pretenses

The bottom line is that when it comes to theft by false pretenses, basically what I typically see is that someone is giving away property and services willingly and consenting to it.

Still, they don’t realize that the other party has bad intentions in mind, is never going to pay them, or will never fulfill their end of the bargain.

So, that’s where you come up with theft by false pretenses. They separate it in those terms because sometimes someone’s giving away or giving up goods or property without the person actually stealing it or taking it away from them against their will.

So, they had to come up with something that would cover a situation where when the person taking something consensually; the authorities can prove they had a bad intention in mind, never intended to pay for the goods, always was going to steal them, and basically, the way they prove that type of a case is by what we call circumstantial evidence.

In other words, evidence shows the person’s true intent was false and that they would steal the goods. Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will explain further below.

What is the Legal Definition of False Pretenses?

 The legal definition of theft by false pretenses under California Penal Code 532 PC says the following:

  • “Anyone who knowingly by design, uses false or fraudulent representation or pretense, defrauds somebody of money, labor, property, or causes others to report falsely of their wealth or character, and by imposing upon somebody using fraudulently means is guilty of theft by false pretenses.”

Simply put, a prosecutor could charge you with PC 532 for lying to someone to convince them to give you their property, money, or anything that has value.

To convict you, however, of theft by false pretenses, a prosecutor has to prove all the elements of the crime, including that the defendant:

  • knowingly and intentionally deceived someone by a false pretense;
  • with intent was to persuade them to give you their property; and
  • owner gave you possession of their property or money due to the false pretense or false representation;
  • after receiving property or money, there was an intent to deprive the owner for an extended period or permanently.

A “false pretense” covers many types of unlawful conduct, but the common theme is the intent to deceive.

What Are the Related California Crimes?

Penal Code 532 PC theft by false pretenses is related to several California white-collar crimes, including:

  • Penal Code 484 PC – petty theft,
  • Penal Code 487 PC – grand theft,
  • Penal Code 476 PC – check fraud,
  • Penal Code 470 PC – forgery,
  • Penal Code 368 PC – elder abuse,
  • Unemployment insurance fraud,
  • Internet fraud,
  • Telemarketing fraud,

Defending Theft by False Pretense Cases

So, if you or a loved one is charged with some sort of theft by false pretenses case, you must get an attorney like me who’s going to fight for you and get your story out there.

Sometimes, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to these types of cases.  Your story is not obtained.  What the police end up doing is just gathering up a story that shows that you’re guilty.

They don’t get the other side of it, which is a shame because then prosecutors who are lawyers like me on the other side, don’t have the whole picture and don’t realize what’s going on from every single angle of the case.Criminal Defense Lawyer in Los Angeles

That’s a huge problem because they’re only operating with part of the story, and it’s a skewed story against you. This will only lead to criminal charges being filed against you and a situation where you’re going to have a difficult time defending yourself.

Perhaps there was no intent to deceive which is a crucial element of the crime for a prosecutor is to show you intentionally misled. So, when I come in on theft by false pretense case, I get the whole story, so I understand what’s going on myself.

I need to assess whether or not there is any information that we could give to the prosecutors that would make a difference in their evaluation of the case.

If there’s not, then we’ll put together a mitigation package on your behalf to show the good things about you and attempt to lessen some of the blow that a theft crime can cause you.

You can be caused to lose future employment.  No employer will want to hire somebody who’s got any theft-related offense.

You could end up with a felony on your record.  You could end up going to prison or county jail.  There’s a whole host of things that can happen to you if you’re not represented in the right way.  You don’t have somebody fighting on your side.

So, if you’re looking for the best, looking for somebody who works hard for their clients and tries to get the best result, you’ve come to the right place.  Pick up the phone.  Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding.  I stand at the ready to help you.

Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles County, and we serve people throughout Southern California, including Ventura County, Orange County, San Bernardino, and Riverside. We offer a free case consultation.

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About the Author

Named Top Los Angeles Criminal Attorney by LA Times and named one of the Top 100 criminal defense attorneys in California by the National Trial Lawyers Association. I'm the attorney other lawyers hire to defend them.

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