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Theft and Socioeconomic Factors: The Link to Poverty

By San Diego Attorney on February 25, 2024

A close up of a person stealing by putting goods into their backpack in a store.

Theft crimes range from basic shoplifting charges to white-collar crimes involving millions of dollars. In California, the monetary value involved has a lot to do with the penalties assigned if the person accused is convicted. While theft comes in all shapes and sizes, a quick review will show that some geographic regions are more prone to petty theft, shoplifting, and robberies than others. One thing these areas often have in common is poverty.

Understanding the Dynamics of Theft and Poverty

Money is the means by which we live and survive. Without it, basic life necessities like food, water, shelter, clothing, healthcare, and companionship are hard to come by. While it is overly simplistic to say that poverty causes theft, some key factors link the two together. In areas struggling with poverty, residents, young and old, are likely to have:

  • Fewer educational opportunities. When families don’t have adequate funds, they are forced to stick with fewer educational options. Higher education may be rare or out of the question.
  • Fewer job opportunities. With reduced levels of education or the inability to attain higher certification, the options for employment are significantly narrowed.
  • Increased criminal activity in the environment. In lower-income areas that already have established criminal elements, it may be easier to get involved in crime compared to areas that do not have prevalent gang or criminal activity.

The Human Side of Theft Accusations

While it is easy to paint an accused thief as having an evil character, we are all human. Usually, there are underlying reasons for a person to go out of their way to take things from others they do not own. Often, the individual acts due to the desire to provide for one’s family or children. Many people are driven to desperation by their economic condition and may commit crimes of necessity to obtain food or medical supplies for themselves or others they care about. The choice between hunger and theft can be difficult when the regular doors of opportunity seem to be closed. Not everyone who steals is a hardened criminal.

The Legal Landscape: Can Poverty Be a Defense Strategy?

If there are so many connections between socioeconomic status and theft, you might wonder: Can poverty be used as a defense? The U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed in a case called Bearden v. Georgia that the Constitution does not permit “punishing a person for his poverty.” Despite this, poverty is not often used as a defense in theft cases and is not likely to be a successful strategy on its own. There are other strategies that a skilled San Diego theft defense lawyer could use instead, as well as pre-trial deals that can be negotiated to potentially avoid severe penalties for first-time offenders or lessen penalties for repeat offenders.

Have You Been Accused of a Theft Crime in San Diego?

At jD Law Criminal Defense Attorneys, we understand that having a criminal record is a burden no one wants to carry. Whether you have been accused of a first-time theft offense or felony grand theft, we will take a stand against your charges. Founding attorney James N. Dicks, is a Certified Criminal Law Specialist and has what it takes to represent you and win the best outcome on your behalf.

Reach out to our San Diego office at (760) 630-2000 for a free case evaluation today.

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Posted in: Theft Crimes

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