Under California law, theft is generally divided into two categories: Grand Theft and Petty Theft.
Theft is defined as taking the property of another with the intent to permanently deprive them of their property (Penal Code section 484). Which version of theft depends on the value of the property, the way it was taken or the type of property.
Value of property taken
In theft offenses, the first question is going to be: What was the value of the property taken? If it’s over $950, that is grand theft (Penal Code section 487). Grand theft is a “wobbler” in California, meaning that it can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. The prosecutor is the one that makes that decision if they file charges against you. If the value of the property taken is much higher than $950, even for a first time offense, they are more likely to file a felony against you. If the case is filed as a felony, the maximum punishment is 3 years in state prison and a fine of up to $1,000. That is just the maximum – the judge has the authority to impose anything from probation with no time in jail up to the maximum.
If the property is under $950, that is petty theft (Penal Code section 488). It is a misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of up to six months in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
The way the property was taken matters
The dollar value of the property taken doesn’t matter if it is taken directly from a person. If the property is taken directly from the person (or something connected to them, such as a purse or bag they’re carrying or like in pickpocketing), then it is grand theft, even if the property taken was only worth a dollar.
If the property was taken using force or some way to instill fear (such as brandishing a weapon, threats of violence, etc.), then it may be charged as robbery (Penal Code section 211). Even a simple petty theft/shoplifting case can turn in to a robbery in some situations. (See here for explanation.) Robbery is a felony and carries up to 5 years in state prison and is a strike under California’s “Three Strikes” laws.
The type of property taken
There are certain types of things, no matter what their value is, that will be grand theft:
- Theft of a firearm of any value
- Theft of a motor vehicle of any value
- Theft of over $250 worth of agricultural products, aquacultural products or livestock
Even if you’re charged with “only” petty theft, take it seriously. Some people think to themselves, “I just got probation and a fine, so it’s no big deal.” That may be true in the short term, but a theft conviction stays with you forever. It can stop you from getting a decent job, impact a professional license or have immigration consequences.
Any theft allegation deserves aggressive defense. Your future, reputation and potentially freedom are at stake.
I practice in all the courts in Orange County. There are things that you and I can do, even before your court date, to get you in the best possible position to try and avoid a conviction and protect your rights. Every case is unique – schedule a case review as soon as possible so we can discuss your options. The best possible outcome is to keep this incident from becoming a conviction in the first place – something I strive for with all my clients.