Theft crimes are some of the most common types of criminal offenses in California and in the Los Angeles area. Most people recognize theft as the act of stealing. Under California law, theft is the act of taking another individual’s property without consent, or permission, with the intent to deprive their ownership. Simply, it is the act of unlawfully taking another person’s property. However, did you know that there are distinct forms of theft crimes? If you are charged with theft, you may face different charges like petty theft, grand theft, robbery, burglary, embezzlement, and more. Each example of theft crime is determined on multiple elements like the type and value of the property stolen, the defendant’s criminal history, and other circumstances around the case.

Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer can lend a helping to you with any theft offense in California. With our highly skillful and expert lawyers, we can aid a client in any situation that he or she may find themselves facing. We can help you find a defense and make sure you understand the charges. When it comes to theft crimes, we are a team of highly qualified lawyers that can help with any type of theft charge.

Types of Theft Crimes

Each form of theft is determined by the specifics and circumstances around each case. As outlined in California’s Penal Codes, each charge comes with clear penalties and punishments. The more serious the crime, the more serious the punishment. Common examples of theft charges include petty theft, grand theft, grand theft auto, grand theft firearm, robbery, burglary, embezzlement, and more. There are also related charges that can stem from theft charges, including receiving stolen property.

Below is a description of various theft crimes and the possible penalties each type of charge can include.

Petty Theft – California Penal Code §§ 484 and 488

Under Penal Code §§ 484 and 488, petty theft is the unlawful taking of another person’s property valued up to $950. This can also be called shoplifting.

This is considered to be a misdemeanor charge in California. However, if the defendant has previously been charged with petty theft, the charge may be elevated to a felony depending on the circumstances (this is described under PC 666).


  • Matthew takes a couple of books from a local vendor without paying. He is stealing the property, and since the value of the books are under $950, this is considered petty theft.

A misdemeanor could potentially lead to include the following: a maximum jail time of six months, a maximum $1,000 fine, restitution to the victim(s), or three years of probation. In California, petty theft is a “wobbler.” This could mean that it may be a misdemeanor offense or a felony based on the defendant’s criminal history, the case’s details, and on the prosecution. Most commonly, it is a felony if the defendant had previously committed a petty theft. If so, potential penalties include either a single year of jail time, or sixteen months in California prison, more severe fines, restitution, and more.

Grand Theft – California Penal Code § 487

Under Penal Code § 487, grand theft is the unlawful taking of another individual’s property valued at over $950. The main difference from a petty theft charge is that a grand theft applies to cases in which the monetary value is great.

Grand theft is a “wobbler” type of offense based on the defendant’s previous criminal history, the value of the object, and the circumstances around each case. Also, the court will take into account the severity of the crime. If a misdemeanor, potential penalties include a maximum jail time of one (1) year. If a felony offense, potential penalties include between sixteen (16) months and three (3) years in a California prison. This could potentially include fines and restitution towards the victim.

In some cases, grand theft will be tried as a felony no matter the monetary value of the property stolen. These cases may include stolen vehicles, stolen firearms, and other types of property.

Grand Theft Auto (GTA) - California Penal Code § 487(d)(1)

As defined under Penal Code § 487(d)(1), grand theft auto is a form of grand theft that involves the taking of an automobile, as its name suggests. Usually, this involves the permanent taking of a vehicle. This is a variant of a grand theft charge, and it comes with different penalties.

This offense is usually a felony offense under California’s laws. Possible penalties include either: between sixteen (16) months and three (3) years in a California prison, or a maximum $10,000 fine. A misdemeanor may apply to a first offense. If a grand theft auto case is found to be a misdemeanor, then the possible penalties include either: a maximum jail time of one (1) year, or a maximum $5,000 fine. The defendant may face increased imprisonment time if the stolen vehicle is a high-priced vehicle.

Grand Theft Firearm – California Penal Code § 487(d)(2)

Under Penal Code § 487(d)(2), grand theft firearm is defined as the act of stealing firearms, such as guns, rifles, etc. This is similar to grand theft auto; however, the value of the stolen property will determine if it is grand theft or petty theft. In order to be charged with grand theft firearm, the total value of the stolen property must amount to $950 or greater. If the value is less than $950, then it can only be filed as a petty theft.

Also, if the defendant has previously been charged with certain felonies in California, then he or she may be charged with grand theft firearm no matter the value of the property.

Since this is a felony offense in the state of California, the possible penalties include: up to sixteen (16) months, two (2), or three (3) years in California prison and/or a fine of $10,000.

Burglary – California Penal Code § 459

Under Penal Code § 459, burglary is defined as unlawfully entering another individual’s property without permission and with the intent to steal their property. Burglary cases can vary depending on the type of structure the defendant had entered (residential vs. commercial).

Unlawfully entering a residential structure with the intent to steal is burglary in the first-degree. This is a felony in California. The possible penalties include: up to two (2), four (4), or six (6) years in state prison.

Unlawfully entering a commercial structure with the intent to steal is burglary in the second-degree. This is a wobbler offense, and may be a misdemeanor/felony. As a misdemeanor, a possible penalty is up to a single (1) year of jail time. As a misdemeanor, the possible penalties include: sixteen (16) months, two (2), or three (3) years within California prison.

Robbery – California Penal Code § 211

Robbery, as defined under Penal Code § 211, is the forceful taking of another individual’s property from their body or presence through the use of force or by use of threat.

There are different types of robbery cases depending on the circumstances of each case. If a driver or passenger of a public form of transportation is robbed, if the robbery takes place in an inhabited structure, or around an ATM, then it’s considered to be robbery in the first-degree. This is a felony, and can lead to between three (3) and nine (9) years in California prison.

For all other forms of robbery, they are considered to be robbery in the second-degree. As such, the defendant could face two (2), three (3), or five (5) years in California prison.

Embezzlement – California Penal Code § 503

Embezzlement, under Penal Code § 503, is the unlawful taking or misappropriating of money or property that has been entrusted to you by another individual or entity. This offense is a unique form of theft in that the property or money was legally possessed but then taken without the proper permission. Often times, employees are at the center of embezzlement cases since they are individuals who handle money for companies.


  • An accountant for a large corporation decides to take some of the money he handles. The accountant falsifies the books to hide this, and takes the money to make personal purchases.

In this state, embezzlement can be punished as petty theft (PC 484) or grand theft (PC 487) depending on the value of the property or money taken. If treated as grand theft, the charge can be a misdemeanor/felony as determined by the circumstances around each case and on the defendant’s past criminal history.

A petty theft misdemeanor can lead to these possible penalties: six (6) months of jail time, a maximum $1,000 fine, or, even, both. A grand theft misdemeanor can lead to: maximum jail time of one year, a maximum $1,000 fine. A grand theft felony can lead to either: between sixteen (16) months and three (3) years within California prison, or a maximum $10,000 fine.

Receiving Stolen Property – California Penal Code § 496

Receiving stolen property is a related charge to theft. Under Penal Code § 496, receiving stolen property means that you have knowingly received, purchased, or hidden stolen property. Even though you may not have actually stolen the property, you are continuing to deprive the original owner of it by taking the property while you are aware it was stolen. In other words, this is just as serious as stealing the property itself.

Receiving stolen property could be tried as one of two possibilities, a misdemeanor offense or a felony, under California law. Again, it comes down to the circumstances and the specifics of each case as well as the defendant’s previous criminal history, if any. If it’s a misdemeanor offense, the possible punishments include: a maximum jail time of 1 year, a maximum $1,000 fine, or, even, both. If it’s a felony offense, the possible punishments may include the following: between 16 months and 3 years within California prison, a maximum $10,000 fine, or, even, both.

What Needs to Be Proven in Theft Crimes

With most theft crimes in the state of California, there are a couple of points that need to be proven in order to be convicted of the crime. As with any type of criminal case, the prosecution needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.

Unlawful Taking of Property

First of all, the prosecutor of any theft crime case would need to prove that the defendant took another individual’s property—this is what makes it a theft. Also, the prosecutor would then need to prove that the victim in question did not give permission, or consent, to the defendant to take the property away. All of this is to establish the criminal act of theft.

Intent to Deprive

Secondly, and possibly most importantly, the prosecutor needs to prove that the defendant had the clear intent to deprive another individual of their property. This means that you have willingly acted to take another person’s property away for a significant or permanent amount of time. The defendant must have purposefully acted to deprive another person, or entity, of their property.

Also, if the property was moved and kept for a short period of time, then it is still considered theft, especially if there was no permission given to act in this way.

These are some key points to keep in mind when it comes to theft cases. In order to be convicted of a theft offense, the prosecutor would have to prove these points in the court of law.

Possible Defenses

When it comes to theft charges, there are defenses that can be used in the court of law with the aid of a well-experienced lawyer. Sometimes a defendant may have a legal reason for committing the actions they did. Possible defenses can include, but are not limited to: a lack of intent, a claim of right, consent, and, lastly, false accusation.

Lack of Intent

One of the key elements that need to be proven in theft crimes is the intent to deprive another person of their property. This means that the defendant purposefully sought to steal and keep someone else’s property. For example, a man in a supermarket took some cans of food and hid it in his coat to sneak it out. This act displays intent since he purposely sought to steal the food.

However, if the defendant lacks an intent to deprive another person of their property, they cannot be charged under California law. Sometimes, a person may accidentally take something that is not his or hers. Or, if you unknowingly took someone else’s property, you cannot be charged since there was no intent. If this is the case, a criminal lawyer may help you with an argument to fight a theft charge.


Another defense that could be used against a theft charge is that you had permission, or consent, from the owner of the property. This means that the individual of the property allowed you to handle or take their property.

Sometimes, there can be a mix up between people. If you know that you were allowed to take the property, then a theft charge could be dropped. However, the defendant would need to prove that they were given consent, or permission within the court proceedings.

Falsely Accused

Lastly, there may be instances in which the defendant may be falsely accused of stealing property. Often times, this type of situation can stem from arguments or disagreements between friends, family, co-workers, and more. Maybe another individual has blamed you for taking property, even though it was not you who took it. This can also come out of situations in which you were given consent to handle the property, but then the owner still accuses you.

Sometimes, with theft cases, the victim may wrongly accuse you of stealing their property. If you feel that you had the legal right to handle or take property, a lawyer can help you to build an argument. With this defense, you would have to prove that you are being falsely accused.

Locating a Criminal Lawyer Near Me

Theft crimes can be minor, serious, or somewhere in between. Yet, most theft crimes do have serious penalties. If you were, or someone else you know was, charged with a theft crime in the state of California, Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer is here to help.

Finding a great criminal lawyer is the initial step you can take towards success in any situation. Our lawyers at Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer are some of the most qualified attorneys in the area, and can lend a helping hand to anyone who needs help no matter the situation. Our team is well-experienced and highly professional. We want to ensure that your situation can go as smoothly as possible. We also are here to make sure your rights are protected and that you are given proper advice in a time of need. We understand that facing criminal charges can be stressful to not only you, but also your friends and family. By contacting our Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer at 310-502-1314, you can be sure that you will be reaching our friendly and highly knowledgeable team.