CALIFORNIA PETTY THEFT AND GRAND THEFT LAWS

Theft Attorney

PENAL CODES 484 and 488 – PETTY THEFT                                                              

See, California Penal Code 484 and 488. California petty theft constitutes the unlawful taking of property of another person or entity that is valued at nine hundred fifty dollars ($950) or less.

The elements of petty theft are:                                                                                            

1. Intent – you intended to deprive the owner of the property; and                           

2. Taking – you took something from another person or business; or                                    

3. Fraud – you fraudulently obtained the property through deceit or otherwise.                                                                                    

Explanation                                                                                                                            

Petty theft may occur in a number of circumstances. These include:

  1. Theft by intentional taking away of property of another (also called “larceny”) – these constitute the majority of petty theft cases.
  2. Theft by trick – for example, switching price tags on an item in a store in order to pay less for it).
  3. Theft by embezzlement – taking money or property that that has been entrusted to you.
  4. Theft by fraud; lying or deceiving someone in order to convince them to give you their property.
  5. Theft by false pretense; lying or deceiving someone in order to convince them to give you their property.

Examples of Petty Theft                                                                                                       

  • Shoplifting sunglasses at a department store, which are worth $250;
  • Asking to “borrow” your neighbor’s $700 bicycle, taking and not returning it, when you initially knew you had no intention of giving it back.
  • Taking a $500 dress from a shipment of clothes you are accepting delivery for on behalf of your boss.

Legal Defenses to Petty Theft

There are a number of viable legal defenses to petty theft that could lead to charges being either dismissed or reduced. These include any one or more of the following:

  • No intent – you did not intend to steal the item,
  • Ownership/possession – the item was not stolen; it belonged to you.
  • False accusation – you did not do the act.
  • Consent – the person who owned the merchandise/item/product gave you permission to take it.
  • Alibi – it was not you who took the property.
  • Duress/threat – you were threatened into taking the property.
  • Accident/Negligence – you did not act intentionally; you mistakenly took the item(s).
  • Entrapment – law enforcement entrapped you. 

Penalties and Punishment for Petty Theft                                                                                         

Petty Theft is generally charged as a misdemeanor; it carries up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. Cal. Pen. Code §490.                                                                         

Additionally, if the defendant has no other theft related convictions, petty theft of an item valued at $50 or less may be charged as an infraction rather than a misdemeanor. If the charge is reduced to an infraction, the maximum penalty is a $250 fine.  Cal. Pen. Code §490.1. 

Moreover, if the defendant has prior theft convictions, the prosecutor has discretion to charge him with felony petty theft under Cal. Pen. Code §666. If the defendant has only one prior theft conviction, the prison term may be 16 months, two years, or 3 years. Cal. Pen. Code §666(b).

If the defendant has two or more theft priors, the prison term will be governed by Cal. Pen. Code §1170(h).

Immigration Consequences of Petty Theft

If you are not a United States citizen and are charged with a crime, you are strongly advised to seek legal advice from an attorney on your immigration status. In this case, a PC 484 conviction – petty theft – may have immigration consequences. You are strongly advised to talk to obtain legal advice on your immigration status if you are charged with this crime.  

PENAL CODE 487(a) – GRAND THEFT

Elements of Grand Theft

The elements for the prosecution to prove of grand theft are:                                                         

1. Intent – you intended to deprive the owner of the property; and                                   

2. Taking – you took something from another person or business; or                                        

3. Fraud – you fraudulently obtained the property through deceit or otherwise.                                                                                 

Furthermore, under Penal Code 487(a), any of the following may constitute grand theft:              

  • Theft of goods of more than $950. Cal. Pen. Code §487 (a);
  • Embezzlement of funds or goods during one year of more than $950. Cal. Pen. Code § 487 (b)(3);
  • Theft from the person of another. Cal. Pen. Code §487 (c);
  • Theft of a car, horse, mare, gelding, bovine animal, or similar livestock ( Pen. Code § 487 (d)(1). 
  • Theft of a firearm Pen. Code §487 (d)(2) ;
  • Theft of a dog of another, exceeding the value of $950; Cal. Pen. Code §487 (e);
  • Defrauding a housing program of a public housing authority of more than $400. Pen. Code §487(i).
  • And others; see, Cal. Pen. Code  487.

Explanation                                                                                                                         

Grand theft may occur in a number of circumstances. These include:

  1. Theft by intentional taking away of property of another (also called “larceny”).
  2. Theft by trick – for example, switching price tags on an item in a store in order to pay less for it).
  3. Theft by embezzlement – taking money or property that that has been entrusted to you.
  4. Theft by fraud; lying or deceiving someone in order to convince them to give you their property.
  5. Theft by false pretense; lying or deceiving someone in order to convince them to give you their property.

Examples of Grand Theft

  • You find a car, valued at $10,000, with its key in the ignition and decide to drive off with it. You have no intent to return it.
  • You shoplift a watch, valued at over $1,500, from a local department store,
  • You work for a cosmetic supply store; over a period of six (6) months, you quietly take numerous items home with you, with no intention of returning them. The total value of the products you take is over $90,000.  
  • You break into a house and steal antique Persian rugs worth over $1 million.

Legal Defenses to Grand Theft

There are a number of viable legal defenses to grand theft that could lead to charges being either dismissed or reduced. These include any one or more of the following:

  • No intent to steal – you did not intend to steal the item,
  • Ownership/possession – the item was not stolen; it belonged to you.
  • False accusation – you did not undertake the act.
  • Consent – the person who owned the merchandise/item/product gave you permission to take it.
  • Alibi – it was not you who took the property.
  • Duress/threat – you were threatened into taking the property.
  • Accident/Negligence – you did not act intentionally; you mistakenly took the item(s).
  • Entrapment – law enforcement entrapped you. 

Penalties and Punishment for Grand Theft

Grand theft is a wobbler. Thus, the District Attorney’s Office retains discretion to charge it as a felony or misdemeanor. When charged as a misdemeanor, grand theft carries a maximum sentence of one (1) year in county jail plus certain, applicable fines. If charged as a felony, grand theft carries a potential sentence of 16 months, two years, or three years in state prison, not including fines and possible restitution to any victims. Often, the greater the financial damage caused by the act, the more extensive the punishment sought by the prosecutors. Cal. Pen. Code §489.

Immigration Consequences of Grand Theft

If you are not a United States citizen and are charged with a crime, you are strongly advised to seek legal advice from an attorney on your immigration status. In this case, a PC 487 conviction – grand theft – may have immigration consequences. You are strongly advised to talk to obtain legal advice on your immigration status if you are charged with this crime. 

If you or a loved one is charged with Penal Code 484 (petty theft) or 487 PC (grand theft) and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, please contact us. The initial consultation is free of charge.