The two most common theft related crimes are petty theft or grand theft, with the difference being the value of the items stolen. If the items are worth $950 or more, it elevates the charge to grand theft. However, if stolen off the victim’s person it is grand theft, no matter the value of the item. Such theft is called “theft from the person” and is a violation of Penal Code Section 487©. In addition, the stealing of a firearm is grand theft even if the gun is worth less than $950. If you have been charged with either petty or grand theft it is important to educate yourself on the actual law you have been accused of violating. Petty theft is defined in California Penal Code section 484. Grand theft is defined in California Penal Code section 487. Also, after the advent of Proposition 47 in 2015, a new crime was created of misdemeanor shoplifting, a violation of Penal Code Section 490.5. The new offense was created to encompass situations where someone entered a store with the intent to steal (formerly a felony burglary) but stole items of less than $950 in value. To be convicted of any of the three charges, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to permanently deprive the owner of possession of the item, and that the defendant physically moved the item at issue.
Lack of the requisite intent. If the defendant did not intend to permanently deprive the owner of the item, then they cannot be convicted of either charge of theft. Being intoxicated or under the influence, is a viable defense because a good criminal defense attorney can convince a jury that the defendant was too intoxicated to have possessed the requisite intent at the time the alleged crime was committed.
Also, as to petty theft a common defense is the value of the goods. The prosecuting witness may value the goods to the police at a rate much higher than the fair market value of the goods. A common example is when the items are used, but the complaining witness gives the police the value of the goods if new.
Another common defense is that the defendant did not intend on stealing the goods. Examples would be if someone is shopping and they put an item in their pocket and walked out of the store, inadvertently forgetting to pay for the item.
One other defense is that someone believed that they had a claim of right to the property. Such an example would be when someone bought a car from another and thought that they had good title, when it turned out the title was fraudulent and the buyer had been tricked. It had happened that the buyer is charged with having stolen the item when they reasonably believed that the item was theirs.
The penalties vary depending on whether convicted of petty or grand theft, and then vary further if convicted of misdemeanor, felony, or if successfully reduced to an infraction.
Petty theft and shoplifting are misdemeanors. They carry a maximum sentence of 6 months in county jail, up to 3 years informal probation, and/or a fine of $1,000.
Misdemeanor grand theft carries up to one year in county jail, 3 years informal probation, and/or a fine of $1,000. Sometimes when the value of the property is just over $950 the case will be charged as grand theft, but since the charge is still a “wobbler” it will be charged as a misdemeanor.
Felony grand theft carries felony probation, with up to 1 year in county jail, or a sentence of 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in state prison.
There are many viable defenses to charges of theft. Also, Judges take into consideration a plethora of mitigating circumstances when sentencing for crimes of theft. It is because of these factors that it is so important to hire an experienced defense attorney who specializes in using the facts to get your charges dismissed, to win for you at a jury trial, or to get the charge(s) and/or penalties levied against you reduced.