Individuals who commit burglary, petty theft, or grand theft of a firearm during a flood, earthquake, or riot can face charges under California Penal Code §463. If you’ve been charged with looting, contact the Simmrin Law Group for advice on how to fight back against this charge.
What Are the Criminal Penalties for Looting?
California is a state that punishes looting more severely than other kinds of burglary or theft. For example, if a person enters a department store intending to steal designer clothes, the maximum they could get for this burglary might be six months in jail. If this same crime happened during a riot, the jail time punishment might be increased to a year or more.
How looting is penalized under PC §463 will depend on the underlying crime. It’s considered a wobbler, meaning looting can be a felony or misdemeanor depending on if an individual commits petty theft, or burglarizes a residence or a business, or has a criminal history. Consider the following looting charges:
- Looting by petty theft: Looting involving petty theft is charged as a misdemeanor. It carries a minimum of three months and a maximum of six months in county jail, plus a fine of up to $1,000.
- Looting that involves grand theft or commercial burglary: Commercial burglary or grand theft during a state of emergency is charged as a wobbler offense in California. A misdemeanor looting conviction is a fine of up to $1,000 and six months to a year in county jail. A felony looting conviction is a fine of up to $10,000 and a prison sentence of 16 months, two, or three years.
- Looting by grand theft of a firearm: Looting that involves grand theft of a gun is always charged as a felony and carries 16 months, two, or three years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
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Why Is Looting Punished More Severely than Standard Crimes?
Historically, looting had to do with triumphant troops and citizens stealing property during or following a war, when conquered populations and armies were vulnerable. The custom was typically accepted and controlled but applied only under military circumstances. Looting during a natural disaster was denounced and punished severely.
As time went on, brazen looters often stole during or after civil unrest or a natural disaster. California is one of only a few states that have laws targeting this specific behavior.
Prosecutors and judges often deliver more severe penalties for looters than regular theft during non-emergency circumstances. The judgment disparity is because regular citizens, security, and law enforcement are missing during civil unrest or natural disaster, leaving home and business owners more vulnerable to burglary or theft.
What’s the Difference Between Burglary and Theft?
Burglary or theft are crimes committed that are charged as looting during states of emergency. The crimes are closely related yet distinct.
For instance, theft happens when an individual takes another person’s possessions without consent and with the intent to deny the owner of their assets permanently. Thefts are typically classified as grand theft or petty theft, depending on the dollar value and circumstances of how the perpetrator attained the stolen property.
A burglary occurs when an individual enters a building or vehicle without authorization intending to commit robbery or another felony (i.e., vandalism). The punishment is more severe for burglarizing a residential structure than for burglarizing a commercial enterprise.
What Does the Prosecution Need to Prove to Establish Looting?
To demonstrate to a judge or jury that an individual is guilty of looting, a prosecutor must establish the following:
- That the crime happened during a local or state emergency or an evacuation order
- That defendant committed petty theft, grand theft, grand theft of a firearm, or commercial burglary
The emergency or evacuation order can be related to any natural or manmade incident listed below.
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What Is Considered a State of Emergency?
Local, state, or federal governing bodies declare states of emergency to safeguard human life and property. Government officials declare emergencies during:
- Public health crises: Public health crises could include situations that include widespread opioid abuse or an infectious disease pandemic.
- Disasters caused by humans: Types of human-made disasters could include industrial accidents, oil spills, riots, unlawful assembly, or terrorist attacks.
- Natural disasters: Natural disasters include tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, or floods. Wildfires are the foremost type of disaster in California.
What Are Possible Defenses to Looting Charges?
Due to the unusual conditions surrounding a looting event, it can often be a challenging crime for the prosecution to prove. Police officers can violate search and seizure laws, reliable evidence can be challenging to obtain, and there may be logical explanations for the looting allegations. Possible defenses to looting charges include:
- Mistaken identity: A law enforcement officer can easily misidentify a potential looter during a chaotic situation like an unlawful assembly. An experienced attorney can maintain that you weren’t the person that committed the alleged looting.
- You acted in good faith: If you committed a burglary or theft during an emergency in good faith, you should be acquitted of looting charges. For instance, if you entered a pharmacy and took medical supplies to treat an injured person’s wounds.
- You didn’t intend to loot: Another defense to a looting charge is that you did not have the intent to loot. For example, you were stopped by police inside a previously vandalized business; a skilled attorney can argue that did not intend to burglarize the business.
Talk to a Lawyer Experienced in Defending Looting Charges
If you are facing California looting charges, discuss your case with a skilled legal team right away. An experienced attorney can protect your rights, answer your questions, explain looting and its penalties, and analyze the prosecution’s case against you.
Contact the Simmrin Law Group today for assistance and a free consultation. Call us or fill in our online contact form. We’ll start building your case today!