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California Theft Laws: What You Need to Know About Petty & Grand Theft
california theft laws
May, 21 2017

California Theft Laws: Petty vs. Grand

California theft laws do not treat all theft equally. The total value of goods stolen determines the seriousness of the crime. Larceny fits into one of two categories: petty theft or grand theft.

Petty theft is the less severe of the two offenses. In most states, petty theft is a misdemeanor crime. The law punishes misdemeanor criminals less severely; often with a monetary fine, community service, or both.

On the other hand, grand theft, or larceny, is much more severe. The state establishes a statutory amount–usually somewhere around $1000– that determines grand theft. If the value of stolen goods amounts greater than that amount, the defender faces possible felony charges and possible jail time.

A prosecutor must establish intent to prove theft. If the defendant intended to withhold the property owner’s right to property permanently, it holds specific intent to steal. Types of property stolen include:

  • Real property
  • Money
  • Personal property
  • Total value of services or labor



Petty Theft in California

In the state of California, theft of valuables worth less than $950 is petty larceny. Examples of common petty theft include bicycle thievery and lifting goods from property when legally invited into another’s home. However, typically retail fraud–more commonly known as shoplifting– results in petty larceny charges.

Within California theft laws, there are exceptions to the established $950 amount. Typically, these exceptions include agriculture products such as chickens, olives, fish, citrus, et cetera. If the wholesale value equates to $250 or greater, the theft of various California agriculture products raises to grand larceny.


Grand Theft in California

In the state of California, grand theft is a hybrid offense or “wobbler” law. Grand theft may be a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the prosecutor. While the statutory limit for grand larceny is $950, the closer the total goods’ value is to that number, the better chance of misdemeanor charges.On the other hand, the greater the total amount value of stolen goods, the greater the chance of felony charges. This is true even for first-time offenders.

California theft laws state when a person takes property from another, no matter the value amount, it is grand theft. To illustrate, if a person pickpockets or takes a handbag with the contents valuing less than $950, it does not matter. This crime is grand theft in the state of California. Furthermore, if the theif uses any force or threat, the charges elevate to robbery. Unlike grand theft, robbery is always a felony and carries up to 5 years in prison as a punishment.

Additionally, theft certain items in the state of California always result in grand larceny charges. These items include:

  • Guns or firearms
  • Cars, trucks, motorcycles, or any motor vehicle
  • Agriculture products including livestock, aquaculture, and vegetation


Petty & Grand Theft Punishments

According to California Penal Code section 488, the maximum punishment for petty theft is a fine up to $1,000 and up to six months in county jail. The defender may receive either one penalty or both. California theft laws define petty theft as any theft not deemed grand larceny.

California Penal Code section 487 states that if the prosecutor of grand theft chargers files them as a felony, the defendant faces a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 3 years in state prison maximum. While the prosecutor decides whether or not the charges necessitate a felony, the judge has the final say on punishment. In fact, they may allow probation with no jail time if deemed appropriate.


California Theft Defense

If you face theft charges in California, you need a defense attorney with the experience and know-how to prepare the best defense. As evidenced above, theft charges in California are somewhat flexible. Having a knowledgeable California theft lawyer by your side provides options considering your position. Whether you face petty theft or grand theft charges, your attorney helps you understand the charges and the legal defense process.

If you or someone you know in Stockton, California faces criminal charges such as petty or grand theft, contact legal representation immediately. A lawyer’s guidance provides strength in the court of law, so you can stress less facing theft charges. Contact Stockton criminal defense attorney Erica M. Bansmer for a free consultation at 209-474-2400.

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