blog home Theft Crimes Is Petty Theft a Misdemeanor or Felony in California?

Is Petty Theft a Misdemeanor or Felony in California?

By San Diego Attorney on June 11, 2020

Misdemeanors and felonies can be a complicated topic for the everyday person to understand, especially when faced with criminal charges. In cases of petty theft, the difference relies on the judgment of the prosecution, who may make a decision based on your history, the nature of the crime, and, most importantly, the amount of money involved in the crime.

Petty Theft Charges Explained

In the state of California, theft crimes are charged under Penal Code Section 484 PC, which covers both petty theft and the more serious charge of grand theft. Whereas grand theft occurs when a defendant is charged with stealing property worth more than $950 from another individual, petty theft refers to any theft crime where the accused stole property that is worth less than $950 in value.

Petty theft can include a variety of crimes, including:

  • Shoplifting
  • Larceny
  • Embezzlement
  • Theft by trick
  • Theft by false pretense

For first-time offenders, petty theft is a misdemeanor crime, which carries a sentence of up to six months in a county, a $1,000 fine, restitution for the amount stolen, and/or probation. If the defendant stole less than $50 worth of property, then he or she may only be charged with an infraction.

However, if the defendant has a criminal history, it is possible to be charged with petty with a prior, which is a wobbler. This means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony.

How Prosecutors Pursue Misdemeanor or Felony Charges

Generally speaking, the prosecution will only be able to charge you with misdemeanor petty theft if you are accused of stealing property valued at less than $950 and have no prior convictions. However, there are several factors to consider that could lead to a felony charge of petty theft or grand theft.

First, the prosecution bases charges of petty theft and grand theft on the market value of the property that was stolen. For example, if an individual shoplifted a piece of jewelry from a department store, you might assume that you can only be charged with petty theft. However, if it is determined that the jewelry is actually valued at over $950 based on its market value, then you could potentially be charged with grand theft.

In addition, your criminal history must be considered. The prosecution may pursue a felony petty theft charge if you have been convicted on a previous charge of theft and:

  • Been convicted of a serious or violent felony;
  • Been convicted of embezzling property from an individual aged 65-years or older; or
  • Are registered as a sex offender in the state of California.

These classifications are based on Prop 47, which narrowed the criteria for determining wobbler crimes. However, even if you fulfill these criteria, the prosecution may only pursue a misdemeanor charge if the value you are accused of stealing is rather low.

But you should not leave your fate up to the prosecution. Felony petty theft crimes can lead to up to three years in a county jail, restitution, and/or a $1,000 fine.

Additionally, if you are charged with grand theft, you could face:

  • If charged as a misdemeanor: Up to one year in a county jail and/or a $1,000 fine; or
  • If charged as a felony: Up to 16 months, two years, or three years in a state prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

Petty theft crimes, while seemingly minor on paper, can significantly impact your life. This charge will appear on your background checks unless expunged, which means your future employers, landlords, and educational advisors can view it before making important decisions about your future.

Defending Against Charges of Petty Theft

Building a solid defense case will require the skill and expertise of a petty theft defense attorney who understands the California court system. Your attorney can attempt to reduce your charges of grand theft to petty theft or have your charges completely dismissed by demonstrating:

  • The market value of the property stolen is below $950
  • You have no prior convictions, or your convictions are pending an appeal
  • You had permission from the owner to take the property
  • You did not intend to steal the property and planned on returning it
  • You believed the property belonged to you
  • You were wrongly accused

To ensure your rights are protected and you have a fair shot at freedom, contact jD LAW, P.C. to secure the legal guidance of a skilled San Diego criminal defense attorney. Our lead attorney is a former LAPD investigator with a proven track record of having a client’s charges reduced or dismissed. Call us today at (760) 630-2000 if you are charged with either a misdemeanor or felony petty theft charge.


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