Have You Been Charged With A Theft Crime?

How to Avoid a Conviction for Theft


In California, theft is prosecuted under several statutes, depending on the amount at issue and how the theft was accomplished.

Grand Theft


If the defendant is accused of stealing property valued over $950, the offense will be prosecuted as grand theft under Penal Code § 487(a).

The prosecutor will have to prove the following elements:

  • The defendant took by theft money, labor, real property, or personal property of the victim
  • The value of the property was greater than $950

Penal Code § 487(a) is a “wobbler,” an offense that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony in the discretion of the prosecutor.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the offense is punished by a jail sentence up to one year in county jail.

If charged as a felony, the offense is punished by sixteen months, two years, or three years in county jail.  Felony probation can be granted with a county jail term of up to one year.

Under federal immigration law, this offense is a crime involving moral turpitude.

Grand Theft of A Firearm


If the property that was stolen was a firearm, the offense will be charged as grand theft of a firearm under Penal Code § 487(d)(2), regardless of the monetary value of the firearm.

The prosecutor will have to prove the following elements:

  • The defendant took by theft a firearm from the victim

This offense is a felony, regardless of the value of the firearm.  The offense is punished by sixteen months, two years, or four years in state prison.  If felony probation is granted, the punishment can include up to one year in county jail.

Grand theft of a firearm is considered a serious felony and can result in a “strike.”  A conviction will result in the loss of the right to own a firearm and the right to vote.

Under federal immigration law, this conviction can result in deportability because it involves a firearm.  The offense is also a crime involving moral turpitude and can qualify as an aggravated felony if the sentence is at least one year.

Grand Theft of An Automobile


If the property taken was an automobile, the offense will be charged as grand theft of an automobile (commonly known as “grand theft auto”) under Penal Code § 487(d)(1).

The prosecutor will have to prove the following elements:

  • The defendant took by theft an automobile

If the value of the automobile was greater than $950, the offense is a wobbler that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the offense is punished by up to one year in county jail.

If charged as a felony, the offense is punished by sixteen months, two years, or three years in county jail.

If the value of the automobile was $950 or less, the offense is a misdemeanor punished by up to 180 days in county jail.

Under federal immigration law, the offense is a crime involving moral turpitude and may be an aggravated felony if a sentence longer than one year is imposed.

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Burglary

Under Penal Code § 459, burglary is the entry of a structure with the intent to commit a felony inside.

First Degree Burglary


First degree burglary, or “residential burglary,” is burglary of a home or inhabited dwelling.  

To prove first degree burglary, the prosecutor must prove the following elements:

  • The defendant entered an inhabited building or dwelling
  • When the defendant entered, he or she had the specific intent to either: 1) commit the crime of burglary, or 2) steal and take away property belonging to another and permanently deprive that person of the property

First degree burglary is always a felony.  The offense is punished by two, four, or six years in state prison.  Felony probation is available. The offense is considered a serious felony and a “strike.”

Under federal immigration law, first degree burglary is a crime involving moral turpitude.

Second Degree Burglary


Any burglary that is not first degree burglary is second degree burglary.

To prove second degree burglary, the prosecutor will have to prove the following elements:

  • The defendant entered a building
  • When the defendant entered, he or she had the specific intent to either: 1) commit the crime of burglary, or 2) steal and take away property belonging to another and permanently deprive that person of the property

Second degree burglary is a wobbler.  If charged as a misdemeanor, the offense can be punished by up to one year in county jail. If charged as a felony, it can be punished by sixteen months, two years, or three  years in county jail.

If charged as a felony, this offense qualifies as a strike.

Under federal immigration law, this offense—whether charged as a misdemeanor or felony—is a crime involving moral turpitude.  

Petty Theft


Penal Code § 488 defines petty theft as stealing property valued at $950 or less.  This offense is a misdemeanor; however, a second offense can be charged as a felony under Penal Code § 666, petty theft with a prior.

The prosecutor must prove the following elements:

  • The defendant stole, took, or carried away property belonging to someone else
  • The property had a value of $950 or less

Petty theft is a misdemeanor with a punishment of up to 180 days in county jail.  The offense is a crime involving moral turpitude under federal immigration law.

Shoplifting


Shoplifting is a specific type of petty theft.  Under Penal Code § 459.5, shoplifting is entering a commercial establishment during business hours with the intent to commit petty theft.  It is not necessary that the defendant actually accomplish a theft.

The prosecutor must prove the following elements:

  • The defendant entered a commercial establishment during regular business hours
  • When he or she entered, the defendant had the specific intent to commit larceny
  • The value of the property to be taken was $950 or less

Shoplifting is a misdemeanor, with a punishment of up to 180 days in county jail.

However, shoplifting is a wobbler that can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony if the defendant has a prior conviction for certain serious crimes listed in Penal Code § 667(e)(2)(C)(iv) or requiring registration under Penal Code § 290(c).  If charged as a felony, the offense is punished by sixteen months, two years, or three years in county jail.

Under federal immigration law, the offense is a crime involving moral turpitude.

Embezzlement


Under Penal Code § 503, embezzlement is the stealing or misappropriation of property entrusted to the defendant by the rightful owner.

The prosecutor will have to prove the following elements:

  • There was a relationship of trust and confidence between the defendant and the victim
  • As a part of that relationship, the defendant accepted property entrusted to him or her by the victim
  • The defendant appropriated or converted the property to his or her own use with the specific intent to deprive the victim of the property.

If the value of the property was $950 or less, the offense is a misdemeanor.  If the value of the property was greater than $950, or the property was an automobile or firearm, the offense can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the offense is punished by up to one year in county jail.

If charged as a felony, the offense is punished by sixteen months, two years, or three years in county jail.

The offense is a crime involving moral turpitude under federal immigration law.