Theft, also called larceny, is a rather broad category of crime with several sub-categories within it. It is essentially a crime against property, wherein a defendant, with intent, permanently takes or withholds the property owner’s possessions or their right to the property. Theft has different forms, depending on the type of property involved.

Theft may involve personal property, money, or the value of labor or services. It may occur without the proper owner’s knowledge or happen when an owner entrusts something to someone else temporarily, which the borrower then does not return when it is due.

What Factors Determine How a Theft is Classified?

California defines crimes of theft by the amount of loss, as well as by the manner in which the theft occurred. If the item or items that were stolen are valued at $950 or less, then it is classified as petty theft and falls into the category of a misdemeanor. If the value of the theft exceeds $950, it is grand theft, which is a wobbler offense. This means it may be either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the case and any past criminal record.

There are certain circumstances where the value of the property taken is not considered, and these are almost always felonies. These include theft of a firearm, a car, certain animals such as horses, and certain farm products such as avocados.

What are the Penalties for Theft in California?

Petty theft or misdemeanor grand theft comes with a fine of up to $1,000, up to six months in prison, or both. For theft of property valued at less than $50, a prosecutor may charge you with an infraction, which results in a fine of up to $250. A felony theft penalty can include up to three years in prison, felony probation, and, if the theft involved a firearm, a strike under California’s Three Strikes Law.

For grand theft that involves high-value property, the possible prison term for a conviction increases significantly. A year is added for theft valued at over $65,000, two for over $200,000, three for over $1.3 million, and four for over $3.2 million.

What Can You Do if You Have Been Charged with Theft?

With the difference between petty theft and felony grand theft being so drastic, a good lawyer is a must for the best chance of a favorable outcome. They may argue that you had a claim of ownership or right to possession of the allegedly stolen property, that there was a mistake of fact or law (such as arguing that you did not know the property wasn’t yours, thus negating intent), that the owner consented, that you were entrapped, or that you were too intoxicated to have any intent to steal, for example. Your defense will depend on the specifics of your case.

For any questions you may have about theft, give us a call at 562-991-6298.