Penal Code Sections 211, 459, 484, 487, 496, and 503 are California’s six primary theft crimes.
- Petty theft (PC 484) is stealing up to $950 in cash or personal property. A petty theft charge is a misdemeanor carrying up to 6 months of county jail time and/or $1,000.
- Grand theft (PC 487) is stealing more than $950 in cash or personal property. As a wobbler, grand theft can be either
- a misdemeanor carrying up to 1 year in jail and/or $1,000 or
- a felony carrying 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in jail and/or $10,000.
- Receiving stolen property (PC 496) is purchasing, obtaining, or hiding cash or things that you know were wrongfully taken. If the value of the property was $950 or less, receiving the stolen goods is punished the same as petty theft. Otherwise, it is punished the same as grand theft.
- Embezzlement (PC 503) is stealing cash or property that the owner temporarily entrusted you with. If the value of the property was $950 or less, embezzlement is punished the same as petty theft. Otherwise, it is punished the same as grand theft.
- Burglary (PC 459) is entering a structure or locked vehicle with the intent to commit petty theft, grand theft, or any felony inside. Burglary of a commercial establishment or auto burglary is a wobbler punishable like grand theft. Meanwhile, burglary of a residence is a felony charge carrying 2, 4 or 6 years in state prison and/or $10,000.
- Robbery (PC 211) is using force or fear to steal money or property from someone’s person or immediate presence against their will. Always a felony, robbery can carry up to 9 years in prison depending on the case.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will answer the following frequently-asked-questions about theft crimes in this article:
- 1. How do I fight theft charges?
- 2. Can I get probation?
- 3. Are there immigration consequences?
- 4. Can my record be expunged?
- 5. Will I lose my gun rights?
1. How do I fight theft charges?
Three common legal defenses to California theft offense charges are:
- The incident was an accident (“no intent”); or
- You were falsely accused or misidentified; or
- The police discovered the stolen property through an unlawful search and seizure.
1.1. No criminal intent
A key element of California theft crimes is an intent to permanently deprive the owner of their property. Honest accidents or taking property you genuinely believed was yours is not a crime.
- If you left a store and genuinely forgot to pay for your merchandise, you committed no crime (though you would be civilly liable to pay for what you took).
- If you entered someone’s home and truly had no intent to commit larceny or a felony inside, then no burglary took place (though you could potentially be charged with trespass).
- If a friend loaned you cash which you honestly thought was a gift, then no larceny occurred (though your friend could try suing you for the cash).
Typical evidence of intent includes eyewitness accounts and recorded communications such as texts and voicemails.1
1.2. False accusations
Perhaps someone levied false allegations at you out of anger or revenge. Or perhaps the theft victim mistakenly identified you out of a lineup.
In these cases, your defense attorney would compile all the available evidence (such as surveillance video) to place you far away from the alleged theft. Your attorney would also try to impeach the accusers’ credibility to reveal their unreliability or motive to lie.
1.3. Unlawful search and seizure
Police have to work within the bounds of the Fourth Amendment when investigating criminal cases. If law enforcement found the allegedly stolen items through an unreasonable search and seizure, then the judge can suppress them as evidence – which may leave the district attorney with too weak a case to continue prosecuting.2
2. Can I get probation?
California judges may grant you misdemeanor (summary) probation or felony (formal) probation depending on your particular theft crime conviction.
Typical probation conditions include:
- paying full restitution to the victim you alleged stole from;
- taking an online class about shoplifting;
- performing community service;
- remaining out of trouble (no new arrests while the case is open); and
- staying away from the person or place you allegedly stole from.
If you violate any term of probation, the judge has the discretion to revoke your probation and remand you to jail or prison for the remainder of your sentence.3
3. Are there immigration consequences?
Most California theft crimes are considered crimes involving moral turpitude or aggravated felonies – which are deportable defenses. There have even been cases where non-citizens convicted of petty theft were deported.4
Therefore, aliens who are facing any criminal charges should consult with an experienced immigration and criminal justice attorney in attempt to get the charges dismissed or reduced to something non-deportable.
4. Can my record be expunged?
You may be able to get a theft conviction expunged from your criminal record as long as you:
- successfully completed probation, and
- did not serve any time in California State Prison.5
Having a clear criminal history greatly improves your chances of getting a job, especially since employers are wary of applicants with any kind of theft crime on their record.
5. Will I lose my gun rights?
You will no longer be allowed to possess or own a gun if you were convicted of a felony-level theft crime in California such as robbery or grand theft. If you were convicted of only a misdemeanor, then your gun rights should remain unaffected.6
For additional help…
Contact our California law firm for legal advice. Our criminal defense lawyers practice in Los Angeles County, San Diego, San Bernardino and throughout northern, central, and southern California. We fight against allegations of theft law violations, drug offenses, violent crimes, DUIs, and traffic infractions.
- See, for example, People v. Aguilera (. , 2016)
- See, for example, People v. Carrington (2009) .
- California Penal Code section 1203 PC.
- 8 USC 1227. See, for example, Alesi v. Cornell (1957), 250 F.2d 877.
- PC 1203.4.
- PC 29800.