Theft can fall under different Penal Code sections depending on the circumstances of the offense.  To name a few, Petty theft, grand theft, embezzlement, burglary, (residential and commercial) auto burglary, carjacking, shoplifting, robbery, receiving stolen property, forgery and misappropriation of public funds

Petty Theft pursuant to Penal Code sections 484 and 488, most commonly occurring in Shoplifting, is the stealing of property valued up to $950.  Petty Theft is a misdemeanor,

Theft is defined as: the taking of someone’s property with the “intent to permanently deprive” them of it.  Theft can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony depending on many factors such as the value of the property taken or having suffered prior similar conduct.  For instance, Petty Theft is the theft of property valued up to $950.00 while Grand Theft, a felony, involves the theft of property valued at more than $950.00.  Only until recently did the law modify the value from $400.00 to $950.00.

Petty Theft with a Prior pursuant to Penal Code 666 is also a Felony and is defined as a second charged theft offense while having a prior theft conviction in which jail time was served.

California courts have long held that Theft requires the intent to permanently deprive the owner of possession of the property.

However, in the case of People v. Avery (2002) 27 Cal.4th 49, 57-58  the court stated that  requirement, although often summarized as the intent to deprive another of the property permanently, is satisfied by the intent to deprive temporarily but for an unreasonable time so as to deprive the person of a major portion of its value or enjoyment.

Penalties and Consequences for Theft are as follows:

Petty theft is punishable by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or both.

However, with effective legal representation, rather than suffer a conviction, jail or being placed on probation, if the merits of your case are worthy of a negotiated settlement versus a trial, Petty Theft charges can be dismissed or reduced. 

Generally, the requirements to earn a dismissal are: 

  • first offense and no prior criminal record
  • the facts are not aggravated
  • the defendant is willing to perform some community service
  • the amount of property stolen is minimal value
  • the victim has been compensated if the property was not immediately recovered.

Often times, to resolve a case sooner than later, the original charge will be reduced to an infraction pursuant to Penal Code 490.1(a) where the value of the money, labor, real

or personal property taken is of a value which does not exceed fifty dollars ($50), may be charged as a misdemeanor or an infraction, at the discretion of the prosecutor, provided that the person charged with the offense has no other theft or theft-related conviction.

The punishment for an infraction is a fine not exceeding two hundred fifty dollars ($250).

Grand Theft is a “wobbler,” which means the prosecutor, be it the District Attorney or City Attorney, may choose to charge the offense as either misdemeanor or felony.  If the Theft is filed as a misdemeanor, a dismissal is again a viable option to resolve the case.

Consideration in whether to charge the offense as a misdemeanor or felony is usually based on whether the person charged as any prior criminal record and the circumstances and facts of the case.  Otherwise, the penalties for Grand Theft are as follows:

-up to 1 year in the county jail or at a minimum of  sixteen (16) months, two (2) years, or three (3) years in prison.

-a significant fine

-formal probation or parole

-in lieu of or in addition to jail, community service or work release

-victim restitution for any and all loss

Proposition 47

Proposition 47 also plays a role in some felony theft crimes. If you have been convicted of felony burglary, receiving stolen property, check fraud, forgery, grand theft firearm or grand theft auto, you may be eligible to have your felony sentence reduced per Proposition 47 and turned into misdemeanors. 

Other Related Theft charges are to be discussed, however, the most common types of Theft crimes charged are:

  • Theft by larceny
  • Theft by false pretense
  • Theft by trick
  • Theft by embezzlement

The theft offense committed will be classified as either theft by larceny, false pretense, trick or embezzlement based on the way in which the property was acquired.

Theft by Larceny

To be convicted of Theft by larceny, the following elements must be established:               

  1. You took possession of property owned by someone else;
  1. You took the property without the owner's [or owner's agent's] consent;
  1. When you took the property, you intended to deprive the owner of it permanently or to remove it from the owner's possession for so extended a period of time that the owner would be deprived of a major portion of the value or enjoyment of the property;


  1. You moved the property, even a small distance, and kept it for any period of time, however brief.

Theft by false pretense

To be proven guilty of Theft by false pretenses, the prosecution must prove the following elements:

  1. That you knowingly and intentionally deceived a property owner by false or fraudulent representation or pretense;
  1. You did so intending to persuade the owner to let you take possession and ownership of the property;
  1. The owner let you have possession and ownership of the property because the owner relied on the representation or pretense;


  1. When you got the property, your intent was to deprive the owner of it permanently/ or to remove it from the owner's possession for so extended a period of time that the owner would be deprived of a major portion of the value or enjoyment of the property.

A false pretense is any act, word, symbol, or token the purpose of which is to deceive.

Note:  An owner relies on false pretense, if the falsehood is an important part of the reason the owner decides to give up the property. The false pretense must be an important factor, but it does not have to be the only factor the owner considers in making the decision. If the owner gives up property sometime after the pretense is made, the owner must do so because he or she relies on the pretense.

Theft by trick   

Any person who uses fraud or deceit to obtain possession of money, labor, or real personal property is guilty of theft by trick. The following elements are necessary for conviction

  1. You obtained property that you knew was owned by someone else;
  1. The property owner [or the owner's agent] consented to the your possession of the property because the you used fraud or deceit;
  1. When the you obtained the property, you intended (to deprive the owner of it permanently and/or to remove it from the owner's possession for so extended a period of time that the owner would be deprived of a major portion of the value or enjoyment of the property);
  1. You kept the property for any length of time;


  1. The owner did not intend to transfer ownership of the property         

Theft by embezzlement

Any person who fraudulently appropriates property which has been entrusted to him or her is guilty of theft by embezzlement. In order to convict you of this offense, the following elements must be proven.

  1. An owner entrusted (his/her) property to the you;
  1. The owner did so because (he/she) trusted you;
  1. You fraudulently converted or used that property for your own benefit;


  1. When you converted the property, you intended to deprive the owner of it permanently or to remove it from the owner's possession for so extended a period of time that the owner would be deprived of a major portion of the value or enjoyment of the property).


Of course, a competent, skilled lawyer will first consider whether the elements of the crime of Theft can be established first and foremost and the existence of any defenses.

Some of the Defenses are that:

  • You did not have the requisite INTENT to steal
  • The property stolen actually belonged to you,
  • The owner of the property consented or gave you permission to take it,
  • You rightfully believed the property to be your own,
  • The allegations of theft are False.

Amongst the many reasons to retain expert and effective representation like that of is that Theft offenses are considered Crimes of Moral Turpitude. Moral turpitude is generally defined   as "conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty or good morals.”

Why are offenses categorized as Moral Turpitude crimes Important?  Having been convicted or being involved in conduct constituting Moral Turpitude, such as Theft, has significance in several areas of law most notably it can bear serious consequences on state licensing issues and immigration.  Such offenses involving moral turpitude may be grounds to deny or revoke state professional licenses such as teaching credentials, licenses to practice law or other licensed profession. While Theft is rarely the most serious of crimes, many employers cannot hire someone convicted of a Moral Turpitude crime such as Theft.    It is also of great importance for immigration purposes in the United States, Canada, and some other countries, since offenses which are defined as involving moral turpitude are considered bars to immigration into the U.S

Any theft crimes can adversely affect so many aspects of one’s life, presently and in the future.

Retain an attorney to explore your options.  So many alternatives exist to defend a Theft case and so many reasons to do so.  As mentioned, in defending against such charges, you must have the specific intent to permanently deprive an owner of their property when you take it to be found guilty.  Stressful events in a person’s life might cause a person to be forgetful in leaving a store without paying for the property thereby negating the necessary intent.  Even if you intended to take property there may be mitigating factors to reduce your offense to an infraction or diversion.  Difficult economic times or retaining a professional license might bear on the outcome of your case. 

MICHELE will be able to help you avoid a criminal conviction depending on the facts of your case. You need to hire an experienced, well-established criminal defense lawyer to plan your defense and present your case to the prosecutor and in court so as to minimize any adverse consequences to you and your life.  Contact MICHELE FERRONI at 818.203.8300 today to represent and defend you against any Theft allegations.






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