Definition and Elements of California Petty Theft
Petty theft is among the most common theft crimes charged by prosecutors in California. Petty theft is distinguished from grand theft by the California law in two ways, which include the value of the property stolen and the punishment if convicted.
Petty theft is defined as the unlawful taking of another person’s property, without their consent, with the intent to steal that property. For theft to be petty, the value of the property must not exceed $950. If the value exceeds $950, or in the case of livestock or produce if the value exceeds $250, it is classified as grand theft.
To obtain a conviction for petty theft, a prosecutor must prove that the defendant committed the crime of theft, and the property was valued at $950 or less. The prosecution must also show that the defendant intended to steal.
Under California theft laws, most shoplifting cases are also prosecuted as petty theft. A person cannot be convicted of petty theft if the prosecution cannot prove that they took an item intending to steal it.
Petty theft in California is a misdemeanor that is punishable by a maximum of three years’ probation, up to six months in jail and a maximum fine of $1000. However, the fines and penalties vary with the defendant’s criminal history and the value of the property or service stolen.
If it is a first-time theft-related charge and the value of the property is less than $50, mostly for shoplifting cases, the charge may be reduced from a misdemeanor to an infraction with a fine of up to $250. If it is a first-time theft-related charge, but the value is more than $50, the charge may be dismissed upon participation in an informal diversion program under which the defendant may have to pay back the value of the stolen property, attend anti-theft class, and complete a certain amount of community service.
In case the defendant has a prior theft-related conviction for which there was a jail sentence, under California Penal Code Section 666 “Petty Theft with a Prior” the penalties are up to one year in county jail or if charged as a felony, 16 months, two, or three years in state prison.