Petty Theft & Grand Theft

California Theft Attorneys

In California, theft is defined as taking property from another owner with the intent to keep it.  There are two main types of theft crimes – petty theft and grand theft.   The most common type of theft is petty theft.  As defined by Penal Code section 488, petty theft usually involves the taking of property where the value of property is under $950.  Petty theft is always a misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of six months county jail.  However, if a person is charged with petty theft and they have three or more prior theft-related convictions on their record, the new petty theft offense can be charged as a felony pursuant to Penal Code section 666.  Petty theft of property valued under $50 can be charged as an infraction, pursuant to Penal Code section 490.1.

Grand theft, according to Penal Code section 487, involves the taking of property whose value is $950 or more.  Theft of a firearm or automobile is also considered grand theft, regardless of the value.  Furthermore, theft directly from a person is also considered grand theft regardless of the value.  Grand theft is a wobbler, which means it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.  Usually, the District Attorney’s office will charge the crime as a felony if the property was well over $950 in value or if the person involved has a prior criminal record.  If charged as a felony, the maximum penalty for grand theft is three years county prison pursuant to Penal Code section 1170(h).  If charged as a misdemeanor, the maximum penalty for grand theft is one year of county jail.

There are different ways to commit theft, such as shoplifting or embezzlement.  Shoplifting is defined as taking merchandise from a store or stealing a book from the library.  Shoplifting items under $950 value used to be charged as petty theft, but in 2015, the California Legislature made shoplifiting less than $950 value a separate crime, pursuant to Penal Code section 490.5.  Shoplifting items more than $950 in value can be charged as either burlgary or grand theft.  It can be charged as burglary if the defendant went into the store with the intent to steal.  See our section on burglary for more information.   

Embezzlement involves secretly stealing money from an employer.  Embezzlement usually occurs over a period of time and the total amount of money taken is what determines whether the crime is charged as a misdemeanor or felony.  Since most embezzlement involves more than $950, embezzlement is almost always charged as grand theft.

Other types of theft crimes include burglary, robbery and possession of stolen property.

Other Consequences

Not only can a theft conviction lead to criminal penalties, but it can also have drastic employment, licensing and immigration consequences.  Theft crimes are considered crimes of moral turpitude, which are crimes that relate to a person’s honesty.  Having a theft conviction can prevent a person from finding a job or lead to a person being fired from their current job.  Furthermore, many professions that require licensing from a state board, such as doctors, pharmacists, nurses, lawyers, accountants, contractors, teachers, real estate agents and stock brokers, all require background checks.  A professional who has a theft conviction on their record risks losing their professional license, or never acquiring it in the first place.  Perhaps the most severe impact of a theft conviction involves immigration consequences.  Non-citizens who are permanent residents, with a green card, or temporary visitors, with a visa, can be denied naturalization or admission or even deported, with a theft conviction on their record.

The Right Attorneys

Choosing the right criminal defense lawyer will be the most important decision someone can make when facing criminal theft charges.  Many people who face theft charges are good people who made a mistake or exercised poor judgment.  There are also some people who have been wrongfully accused of theft, based on a misunderstanding or false evidence.  You need an attorney who will listen to your side of the story carefully, who will evaluate the evidence thoroughly, who will negotiate with the judge and the District Attorney’s office skillfully, and who will fight in trial aggressively.  You need an attorney from the Law Offices of Fred Thiagarajah. 

All our attorneys have either worked for the District Attorney's Office or the Public Defender's Office.  We have the negotiating skills and trial experience necessary to get the best results for his clients.   If a client has no criminal record, our attorneys can often negotiate a dismissal of the charges, either through a diversion program or through a civil compromise.   For clients that have been in trouble in the past or for more serious theft crimes, our attorneys can often negotiate a reduction of the charges or penalties, that may help avoid jail, licensing consequences or immigration consequences.   Our California criminal defense attorneys have helped clients with theft charges in the past.  For an example of their work, please see our case results and read our client testimonials.  With offices in Newport Beach, Long Beach, Diamond Bar, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, Murrieta and Carlsbad, our attorneys have criminal defense experience throughout Southern California, including Orange County, Los Angeles County, San Bernardino County, Riverside County and San Diego County.

The Right Lawyers.  The Right Results. 

Make the Right Choice.TM


Top Reasons


A Former Deputy District Attorney

Fred Thiagarajah is a Former Deputy District Attorney.


An Accomplished Trial Lawyer

Fred Thiagarajah is an Accomplished Trial Lawyer


An Experienced Negotiator

Fred Thiagarajah is an Experienced Negotiator

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