California laws consider a crime against property as theft or larceny. This crime might seem to be minor but can go a long way into affecting your reputation and lead to imprisonment as well. Therefore, it is recommended that you find a professional defense attorney to help you with your case. We at The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm can offer the best legal services.

Definition of Petty Theft in California

Theft, in general, is defined under a couple of Penal Codes in California. Under Penal Code 484 PC, theft is defined as a crime, where one takes someone else’s property unlawfully and possesses it as his or her own. On the other hand, Penal Code 488 defines petty theft as an action where another person illegally takes someone else’s property, which is worth $950 or less. Finally, Penal Code 487 defines grand theft as an act of taking someone else’s property, which is worth more than $950.

There are a couple of factors that the prosecutor should prove to prosecute an alleged perpetrator under PC 484 successfully. These factors are considered as the elements of crime, and they include:

  • Prove that the defendant took possession of someone else’s property
  • The defendant took the other person’s property without his or her consent
  • The defendant had the intention of depriving the property of its owner permanently
  • The defendant kept the property away from the owner by moving at a distance or keeping it for a given period despite how brief it is.

From the above consideration, there are a few issues that arise under this statute. These include:

Property Owner vs. Possessor of the Property

Under Penal Code 484, the owner of the property does not necessarily have to be the real owner. A person in possession of the property can also be considered as the possessor despite not being the actual owner. Therefore, for the statute, both ownership and possession are considered the same.

Intention to Deprive

There should be enough evidence that shows that the defendant had the intention of depriving the owner of the primary value of his or her property. There should also be proof that the purpose took  particular time to make this claim valid.

Please note that the defendant can try to disapprove of the intention in attempting to return the property. However, the judge should examine the timeline to determine whether the timeline is reasonable enough.

Moving the Property

To ultimately prove this aspect, the defendant must have moved the property by carrying it away. This action  is also referred to as asportation. The movement should include three factors. They include:

  • The property has been deprived from the possession of the owner or possessor
  • The defendant ended up with complete possession of the property
  • The property was moved despite how slightly it might be

Stealing of Multiple Items

If a defendant steals more than one property, the question at hand might be whether the crime constitutes one crime or separate crimes. A crime might constitute as a single theft if:

  • The items were taken from a single victim
  • If the taking was part of one’s intention, plan or done out of impulse

If the crime ends up with multiple charges, the value of the property will be combined to determine if it meets the required value as defined under the statute.

Whether or Not the Property Benefited the Defendant

Under this penal code, it does not matter whether one had the intention to use the property for his or her benefit. One becomes guilty of the crime if there was an intention to deprive the possessor or owner of the specific property permanently.

Value of the Property

As defined above, petty theft involves taking a property that is worth $950 or less, while grand theft includes taking property worth more than $950. Therefore, to determine the value of the property, the court decides on something referred to as the fair market value.

The fair market is defined as the highest price that a property could have fetched if it was reasonably sold at an open market at the place and time when it was stolen.

Types of Petty Theft

There are several types of theft in California. These crimes are as follows:

  1. Theft by Larceny

A lot of petty theft cases involve larceny. This is a type of crime where someone takes someone else’s property and takes off with it. It is common with personal property such as jewelry, clothing, electronic gadgets, furniture, bicycles, sporting equipment, and household appliances.

The same elements of the crime must apply when charging someone with larceny. This means that the value of the property should fall below or above $950 to determine if it is petty theft or grand theft.

  1. Tricking

There are five factors that a prosecutor should prove to charge someone with theft by trick. These factors include:

  • The alleged thief took the property that he or she knew that belongs to someone else
  • The property owner allowed the accused to take possession of the property because he or she used some type of deceit or fraud
  • The defendant had the intention to temporarily or permanently deprive off the property from its owner for a specific timeline so that the owner might miss a significant part of the property
  1. The Defendant Maintained the Property for a Given Period

The property owner did not have any intention to transfer ownership of the property to the accused at any cost. California laws define fraud as the intentional use of deceit or trick to deprive the other person of his or her property or rights.

  1. Embezzlement

Under Penal Code 503, a prosecutor might charge you with embezzlement as a form of petty theft. If they do so, they must prove four things to convict the alleged person with the crime. These factors include:

  • The property owner had entrusted the property to the defendant
  • The property owner left the property to the defendant since he or she trusted him
  • The accused person used or fraudulently took the property and used it for his or her benefit
  • The alleged person had the intention of depriving the owner of his or her property for a given period

A fraudulent action is considered when an accused person takes advantage of the accuser based on the breach of the duty of confidence. Please note that embezzlement is not a defense to petty theft when one claims that he or she intended to return the property to its owner.

  1. False Pretense or Fraud

Under Penal Code 532, one commits theft by pretense or fraud if he or she:

  • Took something from another person knowingly by making a pretense or by lying
  • Persuades the property owner to possess the property and
  • The owner decided to give possession or ownership to the alleged person because he or she was relying on a pretense

California laws consider one to have made a pretense if he or she deceives someone by doing the following things:

  • Gives false information
  • Says something recklessly without the basis of believing whether it is true or not
  • Fails to provide information when required to do so
  • Makes false promises without the intention to fulfill them

An accused person should not only have relied on the pretense hence the reason for giving up his or her property. There can be other reasons, but this should be the main reason altogether.

Penalties for Petty Theft in California

Under California laws, petty theft is charged as a misdemeanor. The penalties that follow from such a crime include:

  • Imprisonment in a county jail for a maximum of six months or
  • A fine that amounts to a $1,000
  • Both imprisonment and fine

The judge might award the perpetrator with summary probation in place of jail time.

Sentence Enhancement Under Penal Code 484

If there are multiple thefts involved, then there are chances of exceeding the $950 that defines whether a particular crime is a petty theft or not. For that reason, different convictions apply, especially if the property in question exceeds $50,000 to $2.5 million. In such a case, an additional prison term may be imposed lasting between one to four years.

Possible Consequences on Immigrants

A petty theft might have negative immigration consequences on an immigrant. This results from the United States Immigration laws, which consider certain convictions to have adverse effects on immigrants. Other types of crime can make the perpetrator inadmissible. One of the crimes that fall under this category is the crime of moral turpitude.

In California, a petty theft falls under crimes of moral turpitude. Therefore, there are possibilities of adverse immigration effects after violating Penal Code 484. However, these kinds of consequences are considered under the circumstances surrounding the case at hand.

Possibility of Losing Gun Right after Conviction Under Penal Code 484

The fact that you are convicted under Penal Code 484 does not mean that you will lose your gun rights. However, you should note that there are a couple of felonies or misdemeanor convictions that can make one lose his or her gun rights. A misdemeanor carries a ten years firearm ban under California laws.

Possibility of Expungement in Penal Code 484 Convictions

A person convicted under Penal Code 484 might consider getting expunged from all penalties and disabilities that result from the conviction. This might benefit the convicted person in a long way, especially when the convictions are not disclosed to potential employers. Under Penal Code 1203.4, one might be erased from both a misdemeanor or felony offense under the following basic rules:

  • When one has completed probation either a summary or felony probation
  • When one is not currently charged with a criminal offense, he or she is not on probation for a criminal offense or serving a sentence for a criminal offense.

This means that the defendant must complete probation after committing petty theft or serve the jail term to have the conviction expunged.

Legal Defenses for Petty Theft in California

Any professional criminal defense attorney should have reasonable legal defenses to ensure that you win your case. Here are a few legal defenses that your attorney can consider.

Consent from the Owner

If you had the consent from the owner to take his or her property, then you are not guilty under Penal Code 484. Liable parties are convicted only when the owner has not given any permission to take possession or ownership of his or her property.

False Accusation

If the accuser falsely accused of taking his or her property, you do not stand to be charged under the penal code 484. However, you need to prove that the accusations were not false with written evidence or any other form of proof.

Mistakenly Believed that the Property Belonged to You

If the property belonged to you or you mistakenly believed it was yours, then you should not be held guilty of petty theft. This means that you need to show that you had no intention to take the property from the respective person, but probably you had the intention to reclaim what you thought is rightfully yours.


Defendants can use traps as a way to induce innocence in a case by claiming that they were convinced to commit the crime through coercion or entrapment. If a defendant wants to use this as a legal defense, he or she must prove that he or she did not have any prior inclination to commit the crime until there was enticement or entrapment by another party.


Duress has a close explanation of entrapment, but in this case, force is the principal factor behind such legal defense. It also includes blackmailing or any other type of force that would leave anyone without any other choice but to commit a specific crime. For a defendant to prove this claim, he or she must convince the jury or judge that the action was not intentional or voluntary and does not play any responsibility in the case.

Claim that you Borrowed the Property

Under Penal code 484, an alleged offender is guilty of a crime only if he or she had the intention of depriving the property of its owner. However, there must be enough proof that shows that the alleged perpetrator was merely borrowing the person’s property and had the intention of returning it after some time. Please note that you should prove that you tried to return it after borrowing it within a reasonable period after taking it.

No Intent to Steal

Under Penal Code 484, one factor that the prosecutor should prove during a conviction is the voluntary intention to steal someone else’s property. So, if you had no such purpose in the first place, then you are not guilty under this statute.

Evidence Issues

For any criminal conviction to proceed, there must be proper evidence filed against the defendant. The laws require the proof to be collected in the appropriate procedure. Therefore, if the evidence was collected inappropriately, then the court will dismiss the case. One of the common examples of such conduct is the failure of a police officer to obtain a search warrant to search for the stolen property from your house.

Crimes Related to Petty Theft

There are a couple of crimes that are related to petty theft. These crimes are as follows:

Petty Theft with Prior – Penal Code 666

With the new changes in Proposition 47 of the California laws, the majority of most crimes with three prior theft conviction remain as a misdemeanor except for:

  • A prior conviction under penal code 368(d) or (e) elder abuse
  • If one is required to register as a sex offender

Although petty theft is not considered as a severe offense and is considered as a misdemeanor, under Penal Code 666, petty theft with prior charges carries more substantial penalties as opposed to regular petty theft convictions. Therefore, one might end up convicted with a jail sentence in a state prison rather than a county jail.

Grand Theft – Penal Code 487

As defined above, the grand theft auto is a crime that involves property worth more than $950. This kind of crime is a wobbler, meaning that it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Some of the factors that define whether it falls under such consideration include:

  • The value of the property that was stolen
  • Whether the crime was carried out violently or not
  • The criminal history of the alleged perpetrator

If one is convicted with a misdemeanor, the possible penalties include jail time up to a year in county jail and non-mandatory probation. Non-mandatory probation means that the judge can decide on the probation or not depending on the circumstances surrounding the crime.

If one is convicted with a felony, one becomes subjective to felony probation and imprisonment in a county jail for one year, sixteen months, two years, or three years in state prison as provided under Penal Code 1170(h)(1).

Auto Theft- California Vehicle Code 10851 VC

Under Vehicle Code 10851, auto theft is considered as driving or taking someone else’s vehicle without consent from its owner and with the intention of permanently or temporarily depriving the owner of his or her title of possessing the car.

Such a crime is considered a wobbler and can be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony. If charged as a misdemeanor, the possible punishment that follows includes one year of imprisonment in county jail and a $5,000 fine.

If charged as a felony, the alleged perpetrator risks 16 months, two years, or three years of state prison imprisonment.

Burglary – Penal Code 459

Under Penal Code 459, it is a criminal offense to enter into a room, structure, or locked vehicle to commit a felony. Such kind of criminal activity is considered as a wobbler. This depends on factors such as the type of structure that one broke into and how the perpetrator broke into the structure.

Forcing yourself into a residential structure is considered as the first-degree burglary and carries the following penalties.

  • A fine that can total up to $10,000
  • State imprisonment for 2,4 or 6 years
  • A possible strike under the California Three Strikes Law

If one forces him or herself into a commercial structure, the offense is considered second-degree burglary. Such an offense is considered a wobbler, which means it can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor. If charged as a misdemeanor, the possible penalties that apply include one-year maximum imprisonment in county jail. If it is considered a felony, the potential penalties that apply include 16 months, 2, or 3 years of state imprisonment.

Robbery – Penal Code 211

Under Penal Code 211, Robbery is considered as an act of criminal taking someone else’s property, in his or her immediate presence with the use of fear or force. The intention to take the property out of its owner’s possession must have been accomplished through fear or force.

Penal Code 211 defines Robbery as a felony and is considered as a first or second-degree robbery. As a first degree robbery, the possible penalties include a fine amounting up to $10,000, felony probation, and state imprisonment for three, four, or five years.

For a second degree robbery, the possible penalties that apply include a fine up to $10,00, felony probation, and two, three, or five years in state prison. The prison timeline is a mid or high term, which is determined by the circumstances surrounding the case.

Find an Criminal Defense Law Firm Near Me

The idea of being convicted with a petty theft crime is not good at all despite how minor it appears. You should seek a professional criminal defense attorney to help you win this type of case. These expectations cannot be achieved unless you find a remarkable law firm. We at The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm have the reputation of offering excellent legal services to our clients within Los Angeles, CA. Contact our Los Angeles criminal lawyer today at 310-935-1675 and let us help you solve your case.