Written by attorney David Jon Pullman

California: Petty Theft/Grand Theft/Shoplifting

Petty Theft/Grand Theft/Shoplifting - Penal Code Sections 484, 487, 488, 490.5

Theft offenses are some of the most common crimes that are prosecuted in California. They are often committed by young people who have no idea how serious the consequences can be. A conviction for theft will remain on the defendant’s criminal record for the rest of his or her life and every employee whoever runs a background check will know about it. Most employers will have second thoughts about hiring someone who has a history of stealing and so it is very important to avoid a conviction for a theft offense if at all possible.

Petty Theft - Penal Code Sections 484/488, 490.1, and 490.5

Petty theft, usually shoplifting, is one of the most common offenses that people get charged with and, although it is only a misdemeanor, it can leave a mark on your criminal record that can cause problems in your life. Fortunately, there are many ways to approach petty theft cases so as to avoid getting any convictions. The first step is to look at the facts of the case and see if the prosecutor really has enough evidence that you actually committed the crime of theft. Many times the evidence on one of the facts that the prosecution would need to prove their case is weak or nonexistent. In those cases, your attorney will seek to get the case dismissed or take it to trial and win. In other cases, negotiating for diversion or arranging a civil compromise will be the way to get your case dismissed. Finally, under Penal Code sections 490.1 and 490.5, a first offense petty theft of property valued at $50 or less, can be treated as an infraction.

Commercial Burglary - Penal Code Section 459

There has been a trend in prosecutor’s offices to charge simple cases of shoplifting as felony commercial burglaries. The difference between petty theft and burglary in a shoplifting case is when the intent to steal was formed. If a person enters a store and then decides to steal something, it is petty theft. But, if a person decides to steal something and then enters the store with the intent to steal, it is commercial burglary. The intent to steal at the time of entry is proven circumstantially by the manner in which the theft was carried out or by the statements of the person who is caught shoplifting. This is why it is absolutely important to never say anything to the police or security if you are caught shoplifting. If you are charged with commercial burglary, it is important to either avoid the conviction entirely or at least have it reduced to a misdemeanor.

Petty Theft With Priors - Penal Code Section 666

Another way that a simple shoplifting case can be elevated to a felony is if there are prior theft convictions that fall under Penal Code section 666. Under section 666, a petty theft conviction can be charged as a felony if the defendant has three prior convictions for which jail or prison time was imposed of any combination of these offenses: petty theft, grand theft, auto theft, burglary, robbery, carjacking, or receiving stolen property. Additionally, if the defendant has a prior strike conviction or is a registered sex offender, then only one prior conviction for any of the above offenses will elevate a petty theft to a possible felony.

Grand Theft - Penal Code Sections 484/487

Grand theft is any theft of an automobile or a firearm, theft of anything by taking it directly from the person of another (pick-pocketing, purse-snatching), or theft of anything with a value of more than $950. Grand theft is much more serious than petty theft and can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Theft of a firearm is always charged as a felony. Other common theft crimes include embezzlement, identity theft, fraud, burglary, auto burglary, receiving stolen property, and robbery. These charges can have serious consequences, including large fines, jail, and even state prison. However, with your attorney you should be able to determine if the facts of your case will fit into one of the many possible defenses available to these charges and plan a strategy to achieve the best possible outcome for you.

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