Theft Defense

If you are accused of a theft offense in California, you are facing serious consequences. A theft could be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Los Angeles theft defense attorney Jerod Gunsberg can help.

Theft Charges in California

There are two main categories of theft charges in California: petty theft and shoplifting charges.

Petty theft is charged when the value of the items stolen are less than $950. This generally occurs in shoplifting cases. There are two statutes under which petty theft is charged Penal Code Section 484 (petty theft) and Penal Code Section 459.5 (shoplifting), both are misdemeanors.

First time petty theft and shoplifting offenses are charged as misdemeanors and carry a maximum sentence of six months in the county jail, three years summary probation, and a $1,000 fine.

To be convicted of petty theft under California Penal Code section 484, one of the elements the prosecution must prove is that the defendant intended to steal the item.

To be convicted of shoplifting under California Penal Code section 459.5, the prosecution must prove that the defendant entered a store during operating business hours with the intent to steal the merchandise. Unlike petty theft, one can be charged with California Penal Code 459.5 even if nothing was actually stolen. Prosecutors are not permitted to charge a defendant under both shoplifting and petty theft. They have to choose one or the other.

In many petty theft and shoplifting cases, the intent element is non-existent. People often are in a hurry when they are shopping and are pulled in many directions. Often people “space out” and leave a store wearing an item of clothing they tried on without putting on their own clothes. At the grocery store, a shopper puts items in a reusable shopping bag, does not pick up anything else, and leaves the store without realizing that he or she did not pay for the item in their bag. Sometimes people’s so-called “friends” put merchandise in a person’s purse or in the storage area of a baby stroller without telling them. Our defense lawyers are experienced in dealing with these issues head on.

Theft Diversion – Alternative Sentencing

In some cases, there are underlying emotional and psychological issues that lead people to shoplift. Many people steal because they get a “thrill” out of it or do it for the challenge even they don’t necessarily need the items they stole. Some people, who do can afford to buy the merchandise, have no idea why they stole.

If you want help understanding and changing your behavior, we can help. We work with a wide range of support groups and professionals that can help you. If started early enough, participation in a theft diversion program or private counseling may help in getting your sentence reduced or even dismissed.

Petty Theft with a Prior

As of January 1, 2015, petty theft with multiple priors can no longer be charged as a felony unless the following conditions exist.

1) You have previously been convicted of and served jail time for theft related offenses.


2) You also have a prior conviction for theft, fraud, or embezzlement from a dependent adult (commonly known as financial elder abuse).


3) You have been conviction of a crime in Condition #1 and you also have a previous conviction for a specified strike under Penal Code 667(e)(2)(C) or required to register a sex offender Penal Code 290.

If all these convictions exist, then the prosecution may filed a petty theft as a felony or a misdemeanor.

Grand Theft Charges

In most cases, grand theft charges occur when property over $400 in value is stolen (as of January 1, 2011 this raises to $950). Grand theft can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

Like Petty Theft, in grand theft cases the prosecution must show the intent to steal an item. In the retail setting, many people accused of grand theft are employees of retail chains. Employees are often accused of processing returns for a higher dollar amount than the item sells for and pocketing the difference. Other common grand theft offense scenarios include leaving a hotel without paying the bill or renting equipment from a store and never returning it.

Civil Compromise Considerations in Los Angeles

In many theft cases, we can contact the victim and offer what is known as a “civil compromise.” This arrangement, pursuant to Penal Code Sections 1377 and 1378, means that the victim will accept repayment or return of any stolen property and in return they will recommend to the prosecutor that the charges be dismissed.

Generally speaking, if the victim is an individual or a “mom and pop” store, there is a greater likelihood that they will agree to a civil compromise (major retailers tend to adhere to their “all shoplifters will be prosecuted” policy – but there are instances where a big chain store agrees. It will usually require a compelling set of circumstances). However, even if the victim is on board, the prosecutor is under no requirement to agree to a civil compromise, even if the victim says it is OK.

Under the letter of the law, the court does have discretion to accept the civil compromise and dismiss the charges even without the prosecutor’s approval. Practically speaking, it is rare for a judge in Los Angeles County to approve a civil compromise unless the prosecutor is on board.

Some District Attorney’s will consider civil compromises, others will not consider it under any circumstances. It all depends on the case. If a civil compromise is something a client wishes to pursue, it must be done as soon as possible. If you think a civil compromise may be a possibility in your case, contact us immediately.

Receiving Stolen Property

Receiving stolen property can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. If charged as a felony, the maximum punishment is three years in state prison. If charged as a misdemeanor, the punishment is up to one year in county jail. To prove that a defendant received stolen property the prosecution must show that the defendant:

  • Bought, sold, received, aided in selling, hid or aided in hiding stolen property AND
  • Knew the property had been stolen AND
  • Knew the property was in their possession

Many times people end up with gifts, or buy things from friends or family at a good deal without knowing they had ended up with stolen property.

Other Theft Charges

Most people know that shoplifting or stealing someone’s wallet is considered theft, but many people are surprised at the other ways theft can be charged. Here are some examples:

  • If you use a false credit card or show a false ID to procure goods or services, you can be charged with theft and identity theft
  • If you rent merchandise such as a car or equipment and do not return it on time, you can be charged with theft
  • If you are given an item to repair and keep the item for too long of a period without returning it to the owner, you could be charged with theft
  • If you find the property of another person, you know who the person is, and keep the property with no intention of returning it, you could be charged with theft

Early action is important in theft cases. If you are accused of theft, don’t hesitate to contact a reputable theft defense attorney as soon as you are charged. It is never too early to get help when it comes to dealing with property crimes.

For a confidential consultation, call Los Angeles theft defense attorney Jerod Gunsberg at (323) 633-3423 or get in touch via the secure contact form on this page. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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