Differentiating Between Petty and Grand Theft in California

In California, theft offenses are primarily categorized into two types: petty theft and grand theft. Understanding the distinction between these two is crucial, as they carry different legal repercussions:

  1. Petty Theft (Penal Code 484 and 488): This is the theft of property valued at $950 or less. Petty theft is typically charged as a misdemeanor. The penalties can include fines, probation, and up to six months in county jail. Petty theft is often associated with shoplifting of low-value items.
  2. Grand Theft (Penal Code 487): Grand theft involves the theft of property exceeding $950 in value. It can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the specifics of the case, such as the value of the stolen property and the defendant’s criminal history. Felony grand theft carries more severe penalties, potentially including longer jail terms and larger fines. Grand theft can encompass a wide range of scenarios, from stealing high-value items to embezzlement.

The $950 threshold is a key factor in determining whether a theft will be considered petty or grand. This distinction underscores the seriousness with which California law treats the value of the stolen property in theft cases.

Shoplifting Penalties Under California Penal Code 459.5

In California, the penalties for shoplifting, as defined under Penal Code 459.5, are specific and clear:

  • Misdemeanor Charge: Shoplifting is legally defined as entering a commercial establishment with the intent to commit larceny during regular business hours when the value of the property taken or intended to be taken does not exceed nine hundred fifty dollars ($950). Any other entry with intent to commit larceny is considered burglary.
  • Penalties: Shoplifting is punishable as a misdemeanor. However, for individuals with one or more prior convictions for certain offenses, or for those requiring registration pursuant to subdivision (c) of Section 290, the punishment may be pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.

Juvenile Theft Cases

In California, juvenile theft cases are handled distinctively, focusing on rehabilitation. The juvenile court process emphasizes corrective measures over punishment. Key aspects include:

  • Juvenile Court Approach: Less formal than adult court, it aims to rehabilitate rather than penalize, considering the minor’s age and background.
  • Diversion Programs: These are often used for minors, potentially leading to charge dismissal upon successful completion.
  • Varied Outcomes: Ranging from informal probation to juvenile detention, based on the offense’s severity and the minor’s history.

Understanding the Prosecution’s Case

To secure a conviction, the prosecution must convincingly prove several key elements:

  1. Unlawful Taking: The prosecution must establish that the property was taken without the owner’s consent. This involves demonstrating that the act of taking was without permission and against the owner’s will.
  2. Movement of Property: It must be proven that the property was moved and retained for some duration. Even moving the property a short distance and keeping it briefly satisfies this element.
  3. Ownership by Another: A common defense in theft cases is claiming ownership of the property. The prosecution is tasked with proving that the property indeed belonged to someone other than the defendant.
  4. Intent to Permanently Deprive: A crucial element is the intent behind the act. The prosecution must show that the defendant intended to deprive the owner of the property permanently or for a significant period, thus impacting the owner’s use or enjoyment of their property.

Defending Against Theft Charges in Los Angeles

  1. Claim of Ownership: Asserting that the item in question actually belongs to you negates the theft charge. Demonstrating ownership can effectively dismantle the prosecution’s case.
  2. Consent to Use the Property: If you had permission from the owner to use the property, it cannot be classified as theft. We can argue that any misunderstanding might be due to the owner forgetting they granted permission.
  3. False Accusation Defense: Being wrongfully accused of theft is not just distressing but also illegal. Our team focuses on gathering and presenting evidence to support your claim of being falsely accused, thereby challenging the credibility of the allegations against you.

If you are arrested for theft, we at the Law Offices of Arash Hashemi want to protect your freedom. Schedule a consultation with a lawyer at our firm by calling us at (310) 448-1529 or contacting us online. Our office is conveniently located in the Westside Towers in Los Angeles, within minutes of Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Westwood, and steps away from the Expo/Bundy Station. We have flexible hours and weekend appointments, and we will visit you in jail to discuss your case.


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