What is the Difference Between Grand Theft and Petty Theft in California?

September 17, 2013  •  Jerod Gunsberg, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer

Criminal arrest in Los Angeles

In California, the crime of theft is divided into two general categories: petty theft and grand theft. The difference between the two generally depends on the value of the items alleged to have been stolen. However, grand theft can also be charged if something was stolen directly from another person.

  • Here are the basic differences between petty theft and grand theft:

    Petty theft is charged under Penal Code Section 484(a) when the value of the merchandise is less than $950 and the property was not taken from “the person of another.” Petty theft is most commonly charged in shoplifting cases. Petty theft is charged as a misdemeanor unless the person charged has been previously convicted of any theft related offense, including robbery and felony for receiving stolen property, three or more times and has been sentenced to serve time in any penal institution. Even a one day sentence in county jail counts as a prior sentence in a penal institution. In these circumstances, you may be charged under Penal Code Section 666 (“petty with a prior“) and the prosecutor has the discretion to charge either a felony or a misdemeanor.

    If the value of the items stolen is alleged to be less than $50, then petty theft can also be charged as an infraction pursuant to Penal Code Section 490.5. However, prosecutors still have the discretion to charge these low value thefts as a misdemeanor. It all depends on the particular courthouse in which your case is filed and the filing policies of the local prosecutor.

    Grand theft is charged under Penal Code 487. Grand theft is almost always a wobbler which means it can almost always be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. The only exception is in cases where there is theft of a firearm, in which case it is charged as a felony. Grand theft is usually alleged when the value of the items supposedly stolen is $950 or more.

    However, grand theft can also be charged if the item is taken directly from another person. This is known as “grand theft person” and can be charged if the property is stolen from the person of another, but without sufficient force or fear to constitute a robbery. This is frequently charged in pickpocketing cases or when someone is accused of stealing someone’s purse or bag or grabbing a chain off someone’s neck.

    Theft cases are serious in California. Even beyond the threat of jail or lengthy probationary periods with onerous conditions, the collateral consequences of a conviction can lead to problems with employment, professional licensing, and immigration. If you are facing theft charges, contact a qualified Los Angeles theft defense attorney at the Law Offices of Jerod Gunsberg by calling or via the secure contact form on this page for a free and confidential consultation.

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