Identity Theft

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Identity Theft – Penalties and Defenses

In the digital era, it's easier than ever for many of us to misplace our personal information or to see the personal information and passwords of other people. If you're charged with identity theft, there are several defenses you can erect with the help of a California criminal defense attorney. Learn what to expect from one of these trials and who you should contact on this page.

What is Identity Theft?

Being convicted of identity theft as defined by California Penal Code 530.5 requires the prosecution to show the following:

  • The defendant obtained someone else's identifying and personal information intentionally AND
  • Then used that information for some unlawful purpose AND
  • Did so without the consent of the person whose information they used

In other words, you won't be convicted of this crime if you used the personal information of someone who gave you that information. Say that someone gave you their email address and password so you could sign them up for a Netflix account. This is, of course, not a crime.

Note that, in the eyes of the court, personal identifying information can include things like:

  • Credit cards
  • Email or physical addresses
  • Names
  • Birthdates
  • Passwords
  • Secret question answers
  • And more

Furthermore, identity theft charges don't necessarily mean that someone was outwardly harmed by the action. All that matters is the information was used, not that it led to a negative outcome.

What Possible Penalties Exist?

Identity theft is a so-called "wobbler" offense in California, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. These carry different penalties.

Misdemeanor penalties can include:

  • Probation
  • A fine of up to $1000
  • Time in county jail for up to one year

Felony convictions can include penalties like:

  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • Felony or formal probation
  • Imprisonment in state prison for up to three years

Defenses to Charges of Identity Theft

The focus on intent opens up charges of identity theft to multiple possible defenses based on the strategy recommended by your criminal defense counsel.

No Intent to Defraud

An identity theft conviction requires that the prosecution prove an intent to use the information illegally or to defraud the owner of the information or someone else. If there wasn't any intention to do so, there wasn't a crime.

No Unlawful Use Occurred

If nothing unlawful happened when you had the information, then it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the prosecution to prove that any crime took place.

You have to be careful leveraging this defense since even signing up for a Netflix service, as used in the above example, requires only the person using the service to supply their own personal information, not use an intermediary.

No Willful Act Occurred

Your California criminal defense attorney might propose a defense focusing on a lack of willful intent to steal one's identity. For instance, if you didn't steal someone's personal information on purpose (i.e. you just saw their password lying around), then you didn't technically steal anything.

Why You Need a California Criminal Defense Attorney

It's always important to start your criminal defense proceedings ASAP. That's why you should contact the Law Office of Peter James Chambers today. Get started with a free consultation and get the best California criminal defense attorney on your side now!

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“One who sits in judgment of another should feel as though the sword is pointed at their own heart.”

— THE TALMUD —

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