Orange County Criminal Defense
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Petty Theft & Grand Theft in Newport Beach

The Difference Between Petty Theft & Grand Theft

In California, theft is defined as taking property from another owner with the intent to keep it. There are two main types of theft crimes – petty theft and grand theft. The most common type of theft is petty theft. As defined by Penal Code section 488, petty theft usually involves the taking of property where the value of property is under $950.

Petty theft is always a misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of six months county jail. However, if a person is charged with petty theft and they have three or more prior theft-related convictions on their record, the new petty theft offense can be charged as a felony pursuant to Penal Code section 666. Petty theft of property valued under $50 can be charged as an infraction, pursuant to Penal Code section 490.1. Petty theft that involves shoplifting is charged under Penal Code section 490.5.

If a person is charged with petty theft and they have a prior theft related conviction, then, depending on the circumstances, the new petty theft conviction can be charged as a felony. Pursuant to Penal Code section 666(a), petty theft is a wobbler and can be charged as a felony if the defendant has at least three prior theft-related convictions on their record and has served time in a penal institution (usually jail or prison) for each of those prior offenses. A theft-related conviction includes petty theft (Penal Code section 488), grand theft (Penal Code section 487), burglary (Penal Code section 459), robbery (Penal Code section 211), auto theft (Vehicle Code section 10851), carjacking (Penal Code section 215) or felony possession of stolen property (Penal Code section 496).

The law is more severe for sex offenders or defendants with strikes on their record. Pursuant to Penal Code section 666(b), a petty theft is a wobbler and can be charged as a felony if these types of defendants have just one prior theft-related conviction on their record and they served time in a penal institution (usually jail or prison) for that prior offense.

Grand theft, according to Penal Code section 487, involves the taking of property whose value is $950 or more. Theft of a firearm is also considered grand theft, regardless of the value. Furthermore, theft directly from a person is also considered grand theft regardless of the value. Grand theft is a wobbler, which means it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.

Usually, the District Attorney’s office will charge the crime as a felony if the property was well over $950 in value or if the person involved has a prior criminal record. If charged as a felony, the maximum penalty for grand theft is three years county prison pursuant to Penal Code section 1170(h). If charged as a misdemeanor, the maximum penalty for grand theft is one year of county jail.

Other Types of Theft

There are different ways to commit theft, such as shoplifting or embezzlement. Shoplifting is defined as taking merchandise from a store or stealing a book from the library. Shoplifting items under $950 value is charged as a separate crime under Penal Code section 490.5. Shoplifting items more than $950 in value can be charged as either burlgary or grand theft. It can be charged as burglary if the defendant went into the store with the intent to steal. See our section on burglary for more information. Sometimes, shoplifting can turn into a robbery. An Estes robbery is where a person takes something from a store and then fights with the security guard while fleeing the store. The use of force with the security guard transforms the burglary into a robbery, which is a far more serious crime with far more serious penalties.

Embezzlement involves secretly stealing money from an employer. Embezzlement usually occurs over a period of time and the total amount of money taken is what determines whether the crime is charged as a misdemeanor or felony. Since most embezzlement involves more than $950, embezzlement is almost always charged as grand theft.

Other types of theft crimes include burglary, robbery and possession of stolen property.

Other Consequences

Not only can a theft conviction lead to criminal penalties, but it can also have drastic employment, licensing and immigration consequences. Theft crimes are considered crimes of moral turpitude, which are crimes that relate to a person’s honesty.

Having a theft conviction can prevent a person from finding a job or lead to a person being fired from their current job. Furthermore, many professions that require licensing from a state board, such as doctors, pharmacists, nurses, lawyers, accountants, contractors, teachers, real estate agents and stockbrokers, all require background checks. A professional who has a theft conviction on their record risks losing their professional license, or never acquiring it in the first place.

Perhaps the most severe impact of a theft conviction involves immigration consequences. Non-citizens who are permanent residents, with a green card, or temporary visitors, with a visa, can be denied naturalization or admission or even deported, with a theft conviction on their record.

The Right Lawyers

Choosing the right criminal defense lawyer will be the most important decision someone can make when facing a theft charge. Many people who face theft charges are good people who made a mistake or exercised poor judgment. There are also some people who have been wrongfully accused of theft, based on a misunderstanding or false evidence. Our attorneys will listen to your side of the story carefully, who will evaluate the evidence thoroughly. As former prosecutors we have the skills to negotiate with our former colleagues and the trial experience necessary to get the best results for our clients. For an example of our work, please see our case results and read our client testimonials.

Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

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