Petty Theft

Facing Petty Theft Charges?

In California, you can be charged with petty theft or commercial burglary if you take merchandise and leave, or attempt to leave, the store without paying for it.  You can be arrested and charged even if you claim you were not aware of the stolen goods or if you paid for some and forgot to pay for the others.  If this is the scenario that you (or someone you know) have found yourself in, there is still hope.

The outcome of your case will rest primarily on the skills of the criminal defense attorney you hire to represent you.  There is no doubt that an attorney who is not familiar with the specifics of the many California theft laws may miss an important opportunity to get your charges dropped or reduced.  If you have been arrested or charged with petty theft, commercial burglary, or shoplifting, you should contact Damian Siwek, an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney, at DCS Defense to schedule a no-cost confidential consultation to discuss your legal options.

California Petty Theft Law: Penalties

The California petty theft laws (Penal Code sections §484 and §488) describe theft as, “intentionally taking and carrying away another person’s property without permission and with the intent to permanently deprive that person of the property.”

“Petty theft” applies to any property taken that is valued at $950 or less.  If the property taken is valued at more than $950, the crime becomes grand theft.

Petty theft is a misdemeanor as a first offense.  In California, switching or tampering with price tags or labels, eating food in a store without paying for it and stealing a shopping cart can also be prosecuted as petty theft.

The prosecutor has the burden of proving the charges against you beyond a reasonable doubt. That is where we come in.  We believe that a careful assessment of all the evidence, including any store video tape, loss prevention reports, police reports, and witness interviews can help highlight weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, and build a strong defense.  In California, the penalties for petty theft or shoplifting are related to the “full retail value” of the merchandise stolen:

  • If the value is $950 or less, and a misdemeanor is charged, the penalties include up to three years of informal or summary probation; fines up to $1000, and up to 180 days in county jail. Community service, community labor and/or restitution may sometimes be used as substitutes for jail time.
  • If the value is over $950, the theft is charged as grand theft and can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor with up to one year in county jail, or a felony with three years in custody as well three years of formal probation or supervised release, plus restitution.
  • If the value is $50 or less then the charge may be reduced to an infraction, which means you will have no criminal record and may only pay a fine.
  • If the person charged with the petty theft has three prior theft-related convictions, he /she could be facing felony charges known as Petty Theft with Priors (Penal Code section §666).  This charge is punishable by up to three years in custody.

California Petty Theft Law: Defenses

The defenses to most petty theft offenses are limited, especially if you have been caught on surveillance cameras stealing things because a camera doesn’t lie.  However, in other cases, a number of defenses may be available and may result in the charges against you being reduced or dropped.  The most frequently used defenses include:

  • Intent – Theft requires intent to steal.  If you did not intend to steal something (e.g., someone planted something on you), your theft charge can be defended on that ground.
  • Asportation (carrying away) – If you did not possess it or move it, you did not steal it.
  • Claim of Right – If you thought the property was yours, and that is why you took it (e.g., there were two identical coats on hangers at a restaurant and you took the one you thought was yours), you have not committed theft.
  • Ownership – You cannot steal what is already yours or what someone has given to you (e.g., someone gives you their watch, but then because they want it back, they claim that you stole it).

Petty Theft Lawyer in Los Angeles, CA

It is important to explore your potential defenses with an experienced criminal defense attorney because even a minor theft conviction may have serious consequences, such as loss of employment, immigration consequences (e.g. deportation) and a permanent criminal record.  A theft conviction is a crime of “moral turpitude,” meaning it is conduct contrary to honesty or morality.  Once an individual is branded a thief and a person of questionable integrity, it is difficult to restore their reputation.  Damian Siwek at DCS Defense has successfully defended many individuals charged with theft crimes.  Whether the charge is petty theft, grand theft, or commercial burglary, we understand how these crimes are prosecuted and processed through the criminal justice system.

For aggressive and effective representation against petty theft, commercial burglary, and shoplifting charges, including a free confidential consultation, contact Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Damian Siwek at DCS Defense.