San Diego Criminal Attorney is a law firm that defends various criminal cases in the San Diego area. The law firm has high client satisfaction ratings because of our expert knowledge and years of handling theft cases under California Law. If you are charged with theft, the San Diego Criminal Attorney can argue in your defense. Consequently, this can amount to lesser charges on your conviction hence preserving your reputation. 

What Qualifies for Theft under California Law 

The California theft statute (penal code 484) defines theft as taking property belonging to someone knowingly and deems it as an act against the law. The offender must have had an aim of either taking the property forever or for some time without the knowledge of the owner. This law doesn’t depend on whether the theft was major (felony) or minor (misdemeanor). Prosecutors can charge the defendant based on whether the offender’s intention was to deprive the owner of possession of the property.

Theft occurs in many forms depending on the type of property stolen; personal property, money, among other things. Theft takes place without the owner’s knowledge or consent. However, there are times that the owner entrusts his/her property to the offender with knowledge that the property would be returned. Failure to return the property is termed as theft in California Law.

How is Theft Classified in California Law?

California law classifies theft as petty or grand depending on the value of property in question. Petty theft occurs when the stolen properties are of minimal value of $950 or less. For instance, if someone shoplifts some commodities in a merchandise store and the value of the total properties amounts to $950 or less, the person would be convicted of petty theft. Most petty thefts are charged as either misdemeanor or felony. A misdemeanor petty theft conviction in California requires that the offender serve up to six months in county jail with a fine that should not be more than one thousand dollars.

The prosecutor may charge someone with grand theft if the value of the properties in question have a high value worth more than $950 under California penal code 487. If the defendant is found guilty of more than one or two offenses or possession of a firearm during the act is also termed as grand theft.

Types of Theft

Under California penal code 486, theft can be classified as either grand theft or petty theft. This depends on the value of the properties in question. 

Grand Theft

For a grand theft to occur, the offender must have stolen an item more than $950 in value. Professional and personal repercussions always arise when one is convicted of a grand theft. California’s grand theft statute (penal code 487) allows that if a person commits one or two minor petty thefts that is when the total value of the items are combined and computed, if the value exceeds 950 dollars, the person could be charged of grand theft. Other forms of grand theft may be, shoplifting items more than $1,000, embezzling your employer’s money by more than a $1000, breaking into a building and taking items worth $1000 or more among other valued items is termed as grand theft.

For a prosecutor to charge a defendant for grand theft, he/she must prove the elements of the crime beyond reasonable doubt. The elements depend on the kind of grand theft done. The kinds of theft are;

Grand theft by larceny

This kind of grand theft occurs whereby the offender physically carries another person’s tangible property without the person’s consent and with an aim of depriving the owner of the possession to the property. Taking an item from the owner and keeping the property in your possession for some time, making the owner unable to enjoy it or taking the property and moving it from where it was originally located can also be charged as grand theft in California law. Simple shoplifting of items valued at more than 1,000 dollars is considered as a grand theft by law as well. This can pertain to burglary or auto-burglary.

Grand theft by pretense

The California penal code 532 defines this kind of grand theft as an intentional and known deceit to someone. If the offender says something that he/she knows isn’t true and/or makes a reckless claim that something is true but knowingly is aware that it is false, and intentionally make a pledge that he/she doesn’t honor, is termed as grand theft by pretense. You are found guilty if the owner of the item relied on your false statement/ pretense to give you the item.

The prosecution should have some evidence so as to charge grand theft by pretense. This includes a written and signed document that shows the false pretense, and a person to act as a witness. This kind of grand theft occurs mainly during business deals which involve handing over properties, then accusing the person at long last. California law provides protection on such possibilities.

Grand theft by embezzlement

This is a grand theft where the owner entrusted the offender with the property but he/she used it fraudulently for personal gain. For instance, you are given a title deed in a business agreement and instead, you use it to acquire a loan to buy your own car.  Even if your intention was to return the title after some time, embezzlement would have occurred because the owner had been deprived from the property and you would have benefited from it.

According to California Law, if one is found guilty, the jury is not entitled to charge the offender of grand theft but rather agrees that the offender unlawfully took someone’s property under any of the forms of grand theft. Unanimous agreement on whether the offender committed a grand theft or a petty theft will be done under either penal code 487 or 488 PC under California law.

Petty theft

Most theft cases in San Diego involves shoplifting. However, under California penal code 488 PC, a theft crime is considered petty theft only if the value of goods stolen does not exceed $950. But for in case the crime involved stealing of livestock, it should not exceed a sum value of $250. Petty theft can be categorized as either: misdemeanor, infraction, or felony. Minor theft charges are generally regarded as misdemeanor charges according to California petty theft statute. However, for first time petty theft with the items stolen below $50, the alleged offender would have committed an infraction. In such cases the penalty is $250. 

In petty theft, a person charged with first offense with the value of stolen items over $50, attorneys can argue out a defense which might have the charges dismissed. He/she can participate in diversion programs, community service and attendance of anti-theft classes.

Is Grand Theft Different from Petty Theft in California?

Grand theft is nearly similar to petty theft in California penal law. The difference is in the value of the properties stolen. Items that cost more than $950 are considered to be Grand Theft. However, that is not always the case. Some petty theft or rather minor theft can be rendered as grand theft if a firearm, an automobile, livestock, or an item is taken from the owner’s person like clothing.

Similarly, the above convictions are charged in California’s penal law regardless of the value of goods stolen. This is so in case of the accused having prior convictions on his/her record. These convictions can be;

  1. A registered sex crime.
  2. Or other charges that are of impact like murder or rape cases.

Continuous chain of stealing from your employer is also considered grand theft. You are convicted of grand theft when the total amount of the goods or money stolen exceeds $950 for a period of 12 months.

What Charges are related to Theft?

If a theft is committed with excessive use of force causing fear to the owner of the property, it is considered a robbery. Robbery can be classified as first degree or second degree. First degree robbery under California penal code 212.5(a) occurs when anyone in a building or a structure that is inhabited is robbed or a driver or a passenger in a vehicle is robbed, and/or anyone who uses or has just used an ATM is robbed.

There are situations where petty thefts can be charged as robbery. This is so in case of shoplifting. If security at the store try to stop the offender who in the process of shoplifting pushes the security guard out of self-defense or to get away. This amounts to robbery as well.

Penalties for Theft in California. 

Theft in California is penalized under California penal code 489 or 490 PC respectively. Grand theft is charged based on the circumstances under which the offender was present as well as his past criminal history. 

Grand theft

A conviction of grand theft classified as misdemeanor renders the offender for up to a year imprisonment in a county jail. Conviction of grand theft as a felony sends the offender under felony probation and a year or more in jail. This is in the case of no firearm.

Grand theft with firearm is penalized differently according to California law. It is directly classified as felony; a misdemeanor charge is not an option here. In the case of possessing a firearm, one is sentenced for a longer period of time.

If grand theft charges are brought in as felony charges, additional consecutive sentence penalties can be issued if the property was more expensive. Let’s say Patrick stole a car of unknown value. The car’s value is determined by the receipts presented by the owner and the current market value under a common scheme plan. A sentence of up to a year imprisonment is given in cases where the car was more than $65,000, 2 years if the value was more than $200,000, 3 years if the item was more than $1,300,000 or 4 years if it was more than $3,200,000.  

Grand theft by larceny can be considered if for example, Patrick enters an enclosure like a building or a car with the intention of stealing, it will be considered as either burglary or auto burglary-grand theft. A penalty will be issued even if he doesn’t succeed in committing the intended crime. Burglary is considered as a felony, committing it causes a sentence of 3 years in county jail. It can amount to 6 years if committed in a house where people reside or a car that was in use.

However, burglary charges can increase after committing the crime if the offender goes ahead and opens a safe with explosives or other kind of tools. In this case, you can be charged and jailed for up to 7 years under California's burglary with explosive law 464 PC.  

What happens when an offender has continuously stolen from his employer? You can be charged with multiple grand thefts and receive a sentence for each count. However, if the multiple charges are for a common scheme plan, then only one count will be charged.

Petty theft

Conviction of petty theft in California can amount to one going to jail for six months and paying a fine costing one thousand dollars. For a property of value below $50, it can be charged as an infraction petty theft. The Prosecutor’s discretion can result in a penalty of $250 in the case of a first-time crime. In petty theft, a person charged with first offense with the value of stolen items under $50 can possibly have the charges dismissed. Therefore, He/she might be able to participate in diversion programs, community service, and attendance of anti-theft classes.

However, if the defendant had a prior theft crime in his/her records, the penalty for petty conviction is more intense. If the offender was previously convicted of a major crime, one more theft charge might lead to grand theft.

How Can I Defend A Theft Charge in California?

Your attorneys can use legal defenses found in California Law to defend you in case you are charged with a theft crime. The San Diego Criminal Attorney law firm will help plan and execute your defense. Some possible defenses are;

Lack of intent

As an example, Patrick operates delivery trucks. He delivers goods to various hardware stores and without knowledge, some goods are still in the truck, he drives off. Later on, the hardware owner notices that some goods were not delivered. Our criminal attorneys can argue and convince the prosecutor that the offender made a mistake or was absent-minded when the theft happened. If you never had an intention to steal, the attorney might be able to convince the judge not to convict the alleged perpetrator.  This mostly happens in deliveries where the defendant absent-mindedly drives away with more than $950 in goods. This is possible in cases of grand theft or any amount below $950 in petty theft. If this is proved, there is a likelihood of receiving a grand theft without intention conviction.

Ownership belief

This happens if the offender honestly and reasonably believes that the property belongs to him/her. In this case, you have another possibility not to be convicted of Theft. Claim of right applies only if the belief was of good faith that the property is yours. However, this is not the case in illegally owned properties for drug abuse or a property taken in order to settle disputes of debt; in those types of cases the claim of right defense is un-applicable.

Owner’s consent

This happens when the owner of the property was aware you were taking the property in question. Then one might not be convicted of theft of any kind. Agreements are always made on the use and purpose of the property. However, if the intended purpose and use wasn’t followed or put in place, consent defense might not apply.

False accusations

This happens when the offender is framed and/or wrongly arrested for a crime never committed. This mostly happens in cases of business dealings- whereby the dealers’ reach a point where they start accusing each other in case the deals don’t work. This legal defense helps in such cases.

If the value of properties stolen is in dispute and the items had not been sold or a given period of time, the attorney can argue for a conviction of a minor theft rather than major theft. This is so if value is below $950. In other cases, it must be clear that the offender committed theft but the value of the stolen items are unknown.


This can happen voluntarily or involuntarily. Voluntary intoxication is where the defendant knowingly consumed intoxicated substances. Involuntary is where the defendant argues that they consumed the intoxicated substance unknowingly or tricked into the act. This defense mechanism is used to argue that the offender had no intention in carrying out the theft.

Finding a San Diego Criminal Lawyer Near Me

If you or your loved one is charged of a theft crime, you need a criminal defense attorney who will aggressively fight the allegations. Our San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney has many years of experience handling all kinds of theft crimes.  Remember that an offense on your record has significant consequences that can alter your life, in terms of employment options or your personal reputation. Consider what we can do for you, our attorneys are well-versed in defending theft crimes in San Diego and can readily argue in defense of the accusations leveled against you. Reach out to our firm immediately by calling 619-880-5474 and receive a free consultation.