Identity theft is defined in Penal Code 530.5 and is described as follows:
- The willful taking of someone’s personal identity information for the purpose of securing credit, money, services or property, in their name for your benefit, without their consent.
- If you take and keep another person’s identity, intending to use that information to commit fraud, you are guilty of the crime of identity theft. Even if you never use the information you obtained, the fact that you stole the identity of another, with the intent to use it, is a crime.
- If you give, or sell the personal information of someone to another person, with the intent to commit a crime, you can be charged and found guilty of identity theft.
Orange County law enforcement and the Office of the District Attorney have special units specifically dedicated to investigating, arresting and prosecuting individuals who have been accused of identity theft. They focus solely on finding and prosecuting such individuals. The District Attorney can and usually does, add any additional charges they deem applicable. These charges are usually theft related charges such as embezzlement, fraud, grand theft, petty theft forgery and elder abuse. The type of theft charge depends upon the amount of money involved. The value, which separates petty theft from grand theft, is $950.00. Under that amount will result in a petty theft charge; over that amount will result in a charge of grand theft.
Is Identity Theft a felony or misdemeanor? The answer is that it depends. This type of crime is a “wobbler” meaning the District Attorney can decide whether it is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. When making that determination, the prosecution looks at several things, including your criminal record and the details surrounding the theft itself. In other words, how you obtained the information as well as what you used the information for will be factors in how the crime is charged.
So are there any defenses to identity theft? Yes. If a person has obtained the personal information/identity of another but never intended to use it for fraud, or any other reason, is not guilty of identity theft. The prosecution must prove intent in order to successfully convict someone of this crime. As indicated above, this type of charge typically has other charges associated with it, which increases the potential penalties.
If the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the prosecution, a good, experienced criminal defense lawyer who has experience with defending this type of crime can help to mitigate the seriousness of the conviction and ultimate penalties associated with the charge. Working to get some of the charges dismissed and reduced could make the difference in jail and house arrest or, even straight probation.
If you or a loved one has been arrested for identity theft, it is important to immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to ensure that your rights are protected. In some situations, early intervention by an aggressive defense attorney can be extremely effective in minimizing the severity of the charges.