Theft involves taking another person’s property without their consent. The alleged amount stolen differentiates the type of theft, that is, petty theft involves property worth below $950 while grand theft involves property worth over $950. Petty theft may not be as grave as grand theft, but it can be just as serious. While charges and penalties for this type of crime vary from state to state, and the reasons for the crime also influence the consequences, a criminal record will affect many aspects of your life, from employment to immigration status. 

When charged with petty theft, you should take the charges just as seriously as you would a more serious allegation by preparing your defense. If you are in Anaheim, get in touch with us at the California Criminal Lawyer Group to help defend you against petty theft charges leveled against you.

Definition of Petty Theft in California

As per PC 484, theft occurs when a person unlawfully takes another person's property without their consent with the intent to keep it as their own. To be convicted, the prosecutor must prove all elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

Petty theft involves taking another person's property for up to $950. On the other hand, grand theft entails taking someone's property exceeding $950. The value of the property taken makes the difference between the two offenses.

Under this statute, the prosecution has to prove various components before any conviction occurs:

  1. The defendant assumed the possession of another person's property
  2. The defendant seized the item without the approval of the owner
  3. The defendant intended to permanently deprive the owner of the property when he took it
  4. The defendant changed the article's position, even if only a short distance, and held it for whatever length of time

Other elements that need clarity to understand this crime include:

Owner vs. Possessor of the Property

According to PC 484, it doesn't matter who the property owner was for petty theft to be a crime, and the offense still holds even if the victim was a custodian of the item.

For the objective of this statute, the terms "ownership" and "possession" are interchangeable.

Objective to Deprive

It is sufficient to prove that a defendant intended to permanently deprive an owner of his property by demonstrating that:

  • The accused had the objective of depriving the property owner of most of his property's value for a specific period.

Also, an offender may attempt to defend himself against that theft charge by demonstrating that he planned to give back the item he took. He must, however, restore the thing within a decent length of time after obtaining it. By analyzing the circumstances of the lawsuit, a court of law will determine what constitutes "reasonable time."

Property Movement

A consummated theft crime requires the defendant to have transferred or taken the property away, and it is also known as "asportation."

Three elements of the crime must be inclusive in this movement. They include the following:

  • Removal of the property from the owner or possessor's possession
  • The defendant has entire custody of the things
  • Slight shifting of the property

Theft of Multiple Items

When an accused takes multiple objects in a lawsuit, the issue becomes whether the thefts are all part of one offense or if every stealing is a different crime.

Suppose the defendant is alleged to have stolen various items from a single victim, and these constitute part of one motive, plan, or impulse. In that case, the prosecution will indeed count the offenses as a single theft offense.

If there's one accusation, the property's value taken is the total value of all the property stolen by the defendant in every theft.

Usage or Benefit from Acquired Property

A person is guilty of theft if they want to use or benefit from the property without the owner's consent. It does not matter whether the person intends to sell the property, keep it, trade it with someone else, or commit a crime using it.

In other words, though taking items may not be forbidden, if they're personal property and the defendant wanted to use them or benefit from them — even later — then he could be charged with theft.

The Property's Value

As previously stated, you can define petty theft as the seizure of property valued at less than $950. Grand theft, on the flip side, is the theft of property valued at over $950.

Courts utilize a concept known as "fair market value" to establish the property's proper value.

The maximum cost the property might have traded for within the public market at the moment and place the defendant took it is known as fair market value.

Types of Petty Theft

Petty theft encompasses a wide variety of offenses. These offenses generally differ on how the theft was carried out.

Theft through Larceny

Larceny is the most prevalent form of petty theft. It involves unlawful taking and carrying away of property from the possession and control of another, intending to deprive the owner of its usage utterly. Note that the value of the item stolen must not exceed $950.

For example, theft through larceny can involve stealing from an associate or pickpocketing. Items commonly stolen are clothes, electronics, jewelry, furniture, and appliances, among others.

Theft by Trickery

The prosecution must properly establish five things to condemn an accused of stealing by deceit. These are the following:

  • The defendant took possession of an item that he recognized belonged to somebody else
  • Because the defendant had committed some fraud or deception, the property owner allowed the defendant to take ownership of the property
  • When the accused acquired the item, he meant to permanently deprive the possessor of it or for a timeframe during which the victim would lose a significant portion of it
  • The defendant retained the property for an extended duration
  • The owner of the property had no intention of transferring possession to the defendant

A "fraud" refers to the deliberate use of deception or a ruse to deprive someone else of their possession or legal rights.

An example is when you swap an item's price tag before you buy it.

Theft Through Embezzlement

Embezzlement is a form of theft that involves someone stealing money or property from their employer or organization. Theft by embezzlement occurs when an employee uses their position within the company to appropriate money or property that belongs to the company.

These are the four elements that prosecutors must prove to convict a person of petty theft by embezzlement:

  • A property owner entrusted their assets to the offender
  • Because he had faith in the defendant, the owner of the property did so
  • The accused took or exploited such property falsely for his gain
  • When the offender took or utilized the property, he intended to deprive the item's owner (for a while)

When a person obtains or utilizes another's property "fraudulently," he exploits them or causes them harm by violating a responsibility or confidence.

It is not a defense for a person charged with embezzlement to show that he intended to return the property, and an intent to return the property at a later time is not a defense.

An example of theft by embezzlement is when a bank teller seeks the advantage of his trusted position in handling cash to steal a considerable amount from it.

Theft Under Pretenses or by Deception

An individual commits theft by deceit or pretense under PC 532 when:

  • By "forming the pretense," he deceives an owner of the property knowingly and willfully (or, by lying to him)
  • He convinces the property's owner to allow him to take ownership of it
  • Because the possessor depended on a false pretext, the owner will enable him to claim ownership and possession of the asset

Note that a person commits a pretense in California if he aims to deceive someone else and does one of the following:

  • Offers incorrect information
  • Recklessly claims something is authentic without any justification for assuming it is genuine
  • Fails to provide information when he is required to provide it
  • Makes promises yet with no intention to keep

Only if the property owner depended on the defendant's pretense is an accused guilty of stealing by deceit. This implies that the false pretext had to be a significant factor in the property owner's decision to forfeit his property, and this mustn't be the sole justification.

An example of theft by pretense is when you knowingly pay for items with forged money.

Defenses to Petty Theft Charges

The most robust petty theft defenses are always contingent on the facts of the case and the form of petty theft you're facing. However, several clauses have regularly proved successful in the appropriate context, especially if you do not have prior convictions.

Although these defenses are primarily helpful in averting petty theft charges, your defense attorney will have high chances of getting you a favorable outcome by combining his skills with quality time in preparing your defense.

Acting Consent

The prosecution must show that the defendant took another person's property without consent for petty theft accusations to stand. Your legal defense can prove otherwise by showing that you had the owner's permission to have the said item, e.g., believing that you could professionally use the company's laptop. As such, your attorney can prove that the accusation was a result of a misunderstanding.

Borrowed the Item

The prosecution establishes the defendant's guilt for petty theft when the intention of permanently depriving someone of their property is apparent. Suppose a person, who is not a public officer or employee, takes possession of another's property for a limited and specific purpose and intends to return it after he has used it for such purpose. In that case, he can invoke the defense of "borrowing.

Entitlement Claim

Your attorney can defend any charge of petty theft with a claim of entitlement. This defense claims that the defendant felt he had a legal right to possess the items he took, although that belief was incorrect or illogical.

Without Intent

Petty theft requires that the defendant intended to deprive a property's owner of his possession permanently. Your legal team can employ this strategy by showing that you did not intend to steal the item. With sufficient evidence displayed, you are unlikely to face a conviction.

No Possession

Your attorney can also bring to doubt your possession of the stolen item to counteract a petty theft charge.

Reducing Petty Theft Charges

Sometimes it might be prudent for your criminal defense attorney to negotiate with the prosecution. This might especially be crucial if they have a stronger case that will likely cause you a conviction.

Your attorney can help reduce your petty theft charge to a lesser lawsuit like an infraction. The plea deal between the prosecution and your attorney might lead you into petty theft-associated charges like attempted theft and any such charges. As an infraction, you will only pay a maximum fine of $250 without jail time.

Possible Petty Theft Penalties

Petty theft convictions can lead to up to three years on probation, six months' imprisonment, and fines of up to $1,000.

These aren't, however, compulsory penalties, and they depict the worst-case scenario for your sentencing. You can reduce your risk of being charged with petty theft by engaging with an expert petty theft lawyer.

This is essential considering that having misdemeanors upon your criminal history might have severe ramifications regarding housing, work, and other crucial concerns.

Furthermore, a petty theft sentence may result in the rejection of a state licensing application. For instance, when applying for a nursing, real estate, or law license, a conviction could be a factor that the licensing bodies examine when deciding whether to approve or reject your application.

As a result, speaking to an expert theft lawyer as promptly as when caught and charged with petty theft crimes should be a primary focus.

What happens if the stolen property has a value lower than $50? You will probably have your case reduced to an infraction that is not a crime in a general sense. If your lawyer establishes that the stolen item's worth does not exceed $50, then you will only pay a fine of $250 with no jail term. This verdict will only hold if you do not have any previous criminal record.

The Implication of a Petty Theft Conviction on Immigration

A petty theft conviction may have negative immigration consequences. For example, when convicted of petty theft in California, you may be subject to deportation according to the Immigration and Nationality Act Section 237(a)(2)(C)(i). That's because petty theft is considered a crime involving moral turpitude under California law.

Expungement After a Petty Theft Conviction

If you are pronounced guilty under Section 484 of the Penal Code, you may seek to erase the conviction. According to Code Section 1203.4, an expungement relieves you of almost "all penalties including disadvantages" resulting from a sentence.

You do not have to report expunged records to prospective employers, which is a big plus.

As a general rule, Code 1203.4 allows an expungement for a felony or misdemeanor conviction if the applicant meets the following criteria:

  1. You are not currently:
  • charged with a criminal infraction
  • on probation for illegal conduct
  • serving time in prison following a criminal charge
  1. Have successfully finished probation (either a misdemeanor or felony probation).

This implies that the moment you finish probation or serve a jail sentence for breaking PC 484, you can begin the process of having the offense erased.

Petty Theft and Gun Rights

Another concern that arises is whether a petty theft conviction will result in losing your gun rights. Fortunately, Code Section 484 conviction will not affect your gun rights.

However, there are some misdemeanor and felony convictions in California that might result in losing your gun rights. On the same note, you can get a ten-year ban on firearms for some misdemeanors.

The most incredible relief is that you will not lose your gun or experience any periodic ban from gun usage when convicted of petty theft.

What Happens If You Have Prior Offenses?

If you have previous convictions on your file, the consequences for petty theft are likely to be more severe.

Petty theft with a past can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor under Code 666 if:

  • You've been convicted of a theft charge, a violent crime, or particular sex offenses in the past and
  • You've served jail time for it.

For theft with a previous offense, the accompanying sentencing enhancements might include a maximum of three years in county jail, fines, and probation.

Petty Theft Related Offenses

Three crimes relate to petty theft. They include:

Mail Theft

The California law making mail theft a criminal is Code Section 530.5e PC. The formal legal definition of mail theft in the United States is in two statutes:

  • Code Section 530.5e, as well as
  • 18 USC 1708, defining mail theft as a federal felony.

In California, an individual commits the offense of stealing US mails by doing either of these:

  • snatches or steals mails from a postbox, receptacle, or other permitted mail depositories and a letter carrier or post office
  • obtains or attempts to acquire any mail from either of these places through deception or fraud
  • extracts the content of any seized letter
  • any intercepted correspondence is destroyed or hidden
  • knows about stolen mail and receives, unlawfully possesses, or buys it

Letters, packages, postcards, and mailbags are all considered "mail."

In California, a judge will charge mail theft as a misdemeanor with the following penalties applying to the offense:

  • a year in county correctional facility or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000

Grand Theft

The California law defining the "grand theft" offense is Section Code 487.

According to this section, someone is liable for this crime if he takes another person's property worth over $950.00 and does so illegally.

An infringement of Code 487 is usually a wobbler infraction, and this implies the prosecutor has the option of charging it as a misdemeanor or a felony.

The offense is subject to punishment of a maximum of one year in city jail if tried as a misdemeanor.

If prosecuted as a felony, an offender faces a prison sentence of 16 months, two, or three years.


In California, Code 459 PC defines burglary as a crime that one commits when he enters a home, tenement, tent, vessel, business facility, or room while intending to commit a criminal act or stealing something once inside.

Even though the defendant does not complete the planned felony or theft, burglary is committed simply by getting into the structure having the required criminal intent.

There are two types of burglary in California: first-degree and second-degree burglary. Burglary in the first degree is when you break into someone's home, and theft of some other sort of construction is under burglary in the second degree (including businesses and stores).

Burglary in the first degree is a felony in California, and a maximum of four years sentence in state prison is one of the possible penalties.

In California, second-degree burglary is a wobbler. This implies that you can face a charge as one of the following:

  • a felony punishable by up to three years in county jail, or
  • a misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of one year in county jail

Find a Anaheim Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Facing petty theft charges might be a challenging experience, and you need the services of an experienced attorney to help you navigate the case to get a favorable outcome. This could mean proving your innocence or getting you a lesser charge and helping to clear your name after that.

If you are arrested in Anaheim, you don't have to look any further to find your attorney. We at California Criminal Lawyer Group are here to establish the facts revolving around the charges levied against you and build your defense around these facts. Call us today at 714-766-0965 to start the legal process.