Petty theft may sound like a less serious charge, but it is far from the truth. Under California law, a theft that involves items that are valued at $950 or less is petty theft. Grand theft involves theft of items or services valued at $950 or over. There are some exceptions. For example, the theft of firearms is grand theft regardless of their value. The theft of a motor vehicle is also grand theft under California law.
Burden of Proof
In order to obtain a conviction for petty theft, the prosecutor must prove two elements or facts: (1) That you committed the crime of theft and (2) The property was valued at $950 or less. Theft is defined under California law as the act of permanently depriving another person of money or personal property or temporarily depriving another of property for a period of time that will deny the owner of a major portion of its value or enjoyment. To prove that a theft has occurred, the prosecution must also show that the defendant intended to steal.
Under California law, most shoplifting cases are also prosecuted as petty theft. You cannot be convicted of petty theft if the prosecution cannot prove that you took an item with the intention of stealing it. For example, if you took an item from a store with the intention of paying for it and forgot to do so, that is not petty theft. Being absent minded or forgetting to pay for an item is not a crime. If the allegedly stolen items belong to you, then, it is not theft. Also, if you had the owner's consent to take the property or borrow it, then, you must not be found guilty of theft.
The consequences for a petty theft conviction can be serious. Typically a conviction could result in up to three years of informal probation, up to six months in a county jail and up to $1,000 in fines. The severity of the charges and penalties will usually depend on the circumstances of the case, the value of the property stolen and your prior criminal record. If this is your first offense, alternative sentencing options such as community service, counseling and repaying the value of the stolen merchandise, may be available to you instead of jail time or probation.
Contacting a Knowledgeable Attorney
As with any criminal charge, an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer can make a huge difference in your case. Skilled Santa Clarita theft crime defense attorney Daniel E. Kann has successfully represented many clients who have been accused of theft crimes. If you are being investigated for theft or are facing charges, please contact our law offices to find out how we can help you start building a solid defense right away.