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Theft by false pretenses: 4 elements of proof

On Behalf of | May 14, 2021 | Firm News

California divides theft into different categories, and one of the categories is theft by false pretenses. Unlike the basic definition of theft — taking something belonging to someone else without consent — this type of stealing actually involves the owner voluntarily giving up the property, according to California Penal Code 532. “False pretenses” refers to lying or tricking the owner and gaining the property fraudulently.

Here are the four elements of this offense that a prosecutor has to prove in court.

1. Knowing and intentional deception

The person making the false claim must know that it is not true but also intentionally present it as true to the property owner. It could also include making a promise that there is no intention to keep or leaving out information that is critical to the circumstances.

2. Intent to obtain the property

The point of the lie must be to gain the other person’s property. If obtaining the property was a side effect rather than the point of the deception, then this law likely does not apply. A person’s labor or service counts as property.

3. Belief in the deception

The third element is that the owner of the property gives it away because of belief in the false claim or promise. There may be other influences in play, but the lie must be the key reason the person parts with his or her property.

4. Proof

The prosecutor needs more than a victim’s claim. Proof may involve more than one witness testimony or communication such as a text or written receipt that verifies that a fraudulent transaction took place.

Penalties for a theft conviction depend on the value of the property, labor or service that the defendant obtained.