It was the biggest mistake of your life. “What was I thinking?” you ask yourself. You were arrested for shoplifting and are now charged with petty theft. What is going to happen to me? Am I looking at jail time?
I get calls all the time from people in just that situation.
Theft is generally covered in Penal Code section 484. That section and the ones that follow it contain all sorts of different theories of how theft can occur. More importantly, Penal Code section 487 and 488 define what the differences between grand theft and petty theft are. The most important is that grand theft (a felony) is theft of over $400 and petty theft is under $400 (a misdemeanor). There are some exceptions – theft of a vehicle or firearm of any value and theft of certain agricultural products over $100 in value are grand theft.
If the petty theft is under $50, it can be punished as either a misdemeanor or an infraction. That’s in Penal Code section 490.1.
Grand theft is what is known as a “wobbler” in California. It can be charged either as a felony, carrying up to 3 years in state prison, or a misdemeanor with up to a year in county jail. While the prosecution has the choice in how they file the charges, a judge can reduce the charges if they are convinced it is in the interest of justice.
For all theft offenses, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the property was taken without permission and that the defendant had the specific intent to permanently deprive the owner of that property. If they cannot prove each and every element of the crime, the defendant is not guilty.
If you’re facing theft charges, whether petty theft, grand theft, vehicle theft, credit card fraud or identity theft, there are options. Felony charges may be reduced to misdemeanors. Misdemeanors may be reduced to infractions. There are alternate sentences besides just jail time that can be explored. Don’t assume you have to plead guilty without exploring your options.
The best possible outcome in this situation is to avoid a conviction in the first place. This is something I try to achieve for all my clients. The only way to know what we can do about your case is to discuss it. There’s never a charge for an initial consultation.
More information can be found here: