Being accused of any crime is a serious situation, but identity theft is a particularly nasty accusation to face. In California, identity theft is known as a “wobbler,” which means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the details of the case and how the prosecutor chooses to proceed. Both charges are serious, and there are Federal anti-identity theft laws in place that can result in a Federal charge as well. No matter what, if you have been accused of identity theft, call an experienced criminal defense lawyer to represent you and protect your rights.
California Penal Code 530.5 defines identity theft as willfully obtaining personal identifying information of another person, and using that information for any unlawful purpose, including obtaining, or attempting to obtain, credit, goods, services, real property, or medical information without the consent of that person. There are two particularly important elements of this as it relates to defending yourself: “willfully obtaining” and “unlawful purpose.”
The phrase “willfully obtaining” is important because it covers the way in which the personal identifying information is acquired. Notice that it does not say “actively obtaining,” that is because a person can be given this personal information without asking for it, use it unlawfully, and then be charged with identity theft. The California penal code does not require that someone actively try to obtain it, only that they gain it and then use it.
When it comes to a defense, the phrase “unlawful purpose” is very important because it is the act that signifies a crime. Possessing someone else’s personal identifying information is not, in and of itself, against the California penal code. If someone hands you a piece of paper with another person’s credit card information on it, you have not committed identity theft. It becomes a crime if you then use the information to make purchases using that credit card without the card owner’s consent.
One of the strongest defenses against an identity theft charge, therefore, is to establish that there was never intent or action to use the information for unlawful purposes. That typically comes down to either using it for an illegal purpose or to commit fraud in some way. You may also be able to defend yourself against this type of charge by demonstrating that you never had the information in the first place, and that you have been wrongly accused of someone else’s actions.
Ultimately, how you defend against a charge of identity theft will depend upon the specific details of your case. No matter what the situation, however, you want an experienced Los Angeles identity theft lawyer to represent and defend you. Call Criminal Defense Incorporated today at (800) 458-1488 to discuss your case and talk about your options.