The crime of false pretenses is part of the offense of larceny and is found in California Penal Code Section 532. It is the act of unlawfully obtaining title to someone else’s property by intentional fraud or misrepresentation. The offense consists of the following:
- Intentionally deceiving someone by a past or present material fact
- That is relied upon by the victim
- Who transfers title to the offender
In other words, it is someone making a false promise, telling an untrue fact or presenting a false document that convinces the victim to relinquish his or her title to property.
What is Material Misrepresentation?
The falsehood that is relied upon must be material. To be material means that it is relevant and important. It does not have to necessarily be a believable claim but it cannot be an incredible claim that no reasonable person would rely upon. For example, if a person promised the victim that that he or she could predict the next winning lottery numbers and was paid for that information by the victim, the offender may not be guilty of false pretenses. In this case, a jury might determine that it was just too incredible a claim for any sensible person to rely upon.
Intent to Defraud
There must be intent to defraud the victim to obtain property from the victim as well as an affirmative act. If the defendant obtains the property but evinces the intent to return the property within a reasonable time, there may not be the required intent to defraud. Although there must be an affirmative act, being silent may be sufficient if there is a fiduciary relationship between the parties and the offender failed to disclose a material fact that if known by the victim, would not have resulted in the transferring of title.
Embezzlement is similar to false pretenses in that a person is acquiring the property of another who is in a position of trust. Unlike false pretenses, embezzlement is acquiring legal title to the property but the offender then uses it for his or her own benefit without the consent of the victim. Even if the offenders intended to repay the funds, they had knowledge that the money was not theirs.
A bookkeeper who diverts funds of the company to his or her own account or a cashier who takes money from the register are all guilty of embezzlement
Larceny by Trick
The difference between this offense and the crime of false pretenses is that the offender is obtaining possession of the property by trick or misrepresentation while the former involves gaining actual title to the property. A person who takes a car for a test ride from the dealer and promises to return it in a few hours and then fails to do so does not gain title to the car but possession by trick or misrepresentation.
Fraud on the internet is rampant. It is common for emails or ads to falsely advertise for services or products or to misrepresent something to induce the victim to pay funds. These crimes may be federal offenses and come under wire fraud, which carries up to 30 years in federal prison.
People who misrepresent injuries to obtain insurance benefits or compensation or who lie about their sources of income to get unemployment benefits are guilty of insurance fraud. These may be charged as misdemeanors or as felonies.
Degree of the Offense
The degree of the offense of false pretenses depends on the value of the property acquired. If the property taken is valued at less than $950, it is petty theft with a fine of up to $1,000 and possible jail time of no more than 6 months.
For property valued at $950 or more, it is grand theft. Penalties range from up to one year in jail; or state prison time of 16 months, 2 years or 3 years depending on how it is charged and the offender’s criminal history.
Defenses to False Pretenses
There are a number of available defenses to this crime”
No intent to deceive
If you knew about a material fact and either failed to disclose it or promised to perform an act that you never intended to carry out, it is deception. But if you made a mistake or merely expressed an opinion, you may not have expressed an intent to deceive anyone.
The victim must have relied on your misrepresentation or deception in giving up the property. In business dealings, there are often claims made that fail to materialize, but people should be aware that business ventures or investments often fail to live up to expectations or fall flat. Reliance on such claims may not be valid.
The fact relied on was not credible
There are many gullible people who want to believe the most outrageous claims. A jury can consider whether the claim made was so incredible that no reasonable person should have reasonably relied upon it.
Under federal immigration law, if you are an alien or permanent resident and you commit a crime of moral turpitude, you may have serious immigration consequences. In some cases, you could face potential deportation and not be eligible for cancellation of removal relief.
Call the Law Offices of Ramiro J. Lluis
Facing a charge of false pretenses or a related offense can result in serious prison time and have long range or permanent adverse consequences on your life. If you have been charged with false pretenses, call the Law Offices of Ramiro J. Lluis today for a free, confidential initial consultation at (213) 687-4412.