An unfortunate mistake of unlawfully taking a property that doesn’t belong to you to permanently depriving the rightful owner of its value is called a theft crime. The penalties for being convicted of this crime include jail, huge fines, or a permanent criminal history. One can be wrongfully accused or set up for theft crimes hence the need for a criminal defense attorney.

The Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm has experience defending people charged with theft crimes. We will help you learn the common theft crimes that you are likely to face in California, the possible consequences, and defense strategies.

Petty Theft

According to the California Penal Code Sections 484 & 488, Petty Theft is the illegal taking of another person’s property, without their permission and with the intent of stealing that property. A theft will qualify as petty if the property value is less than $950 and if no firearms or automobiles are involved.

Elements of California Petty Theft

A person is charged with Petty Theft if the value of the alleged stolen property doesn’t exceed $950. Other aspects of Petty Theft crime include:

  • Permanently depriving someone of their property.
  • Temporarily denied another person their property such that the owner fails to enjoy the property or get its value.
  • Defraud another of their property or service.
  • Take the property to return it for a reward, refund, or selling it back to the owner.

The market value always determines the cost of the property or services stolen.

In some situations, you might face Grand Theft charges as codified under Penal Code 487, if you take someone’s fruits or crops whose value exceeds $250. In such a case, you will face Grand Theft charges instead of Petty Theft. Again, taking a particular type of fish worth over $250 will be deemed Grand Theft even if the amount is less than $950.

Types of Theft under the California Penal Code 484

  1. Theft by Larceny

Theft by larceny occurs when you:

  • Take possession of someone’s property that doesn’t belong to you,
  • Without the permission of the property owner,
  • To deny the owner of it permanently or temporarily, and
  • Physically carry the object or merchandise out of the owner's property.

For instance, if you are mad at your friend and decides to take their phone without their consent to hide it temporarily to return but not for a period exceeding one day, you cannot be charged with theft by larceny. The reason being you had zero plans of depriving your friend the phone for a period long enough to miss a portion of its value or enjoyment.

However, if you take someone’s property for months without their permission, you could be charged with Petty Theft by larceny because the duration is long enough to deprive the owner of its enjoyment or a portion of its value.

Shoplifting and stealing from a family member are other examples of Petty Thefts that fall under the category of Petty Theft by larceny.

  1. Petty Theft by Pretense

Theft by false pretense is codified under Penal Code 532 it’s violated if:

  • You knowingly use deceit on a person to take property without necessarily stealing from them,
  • You deceived them deliberately to persuade them to allow you to take away their property,
  • The property owner allowed you to take ownership, relying on the lies or the false pretense.

PC 532 makes it clear that you make false pretense:

  • If you give false information,
  • Make a promise that you’re not planning to fulfill,
  • Fail to provide detailed information when you have a responsibility to do so, or
  • Say something is real, whereas you don’t believe it to be true.

The false pretense should always be an essential reason why the property owner transferred ownership. If it isn’t the fundamental reason for transferring ownership, then the defendant will not be found guilty of theft by false pretense.

The prosecution in false pretense cases must produce some of the following things to prove that you are guilty.

  • False writing,
  • Testimony from more than two witnesses,
  • Evidence from one witness plus additional discovery, and
  • A note of trickery signed or handwritten by the defendant.
  1. Theft by trickery


  • You obtain a property that you know belongs to someone else,
  • The property owner passed on ownership to you due to your deceit,
  • You acquired the property with the intent to take it away permanently or deprive them the item lengthy enough for them to fail to enjoy or get a portion of its value,
  • The property was in your possession for any length of time, or
  • The property owner had no intention of passing on the ownership, then you have committed theft by trickery.

Petty Theft by false pretense is very similar to Petty Theft by trickery; the only difference is that in the false claim, the owner of the property lets you have it, but in theft by deception, the owner has no intention of transferring ownership.

Penalties for Petty Theft include:

  • Up to 36 months informal probation,
  • Sentence of six months in county jail,
  • A fine not exceeding $1000, or
  • A fine of up to $250 if the property stolen has a value not exceeding $250 and it’s your first time to be arrested.

Grand Theft

Grand Theft is codified under Penal Code 487 as the unlawful taking of someone’s property whose value exceeds $950. For you to be convicted of Grand Theft, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt all the elements of the crime. Even making one or two simple mistakes can get you charged with Grand Theft and the repercussions are severe.

Some of the things that can be deemed as Grand Theft include stealing electronics or embezzling funds whose value is thousands of dollars. Grand Theft by larceny, Grand Theft by false pretense, theft by trick, and Embezzlement are some of the numerous types of Grand Theft.

The prosecution can decide to charge you with a misdemeanor, or felony Grand Theft for these theft crimes. In case the prosecutor chooses to charge you with a misdemeanor, the penalty will be one year in county jail. Felony Grand Theft penalties include incarceration of sixteen months, two or three years.

To avoid such consequences, you must build a solid defense. Some of the common legal arguments for Grand Theft include the following assertions:

  1. The accusations against you are false,
  2. The owner of the property allowed you to take it
  3. The property alleged to have been stolen belongs to you, and
  4. You had no intent to steal.

Legal defenses for a Petty Theft charge:

  • You believed the property in context “stolen” belonged to you,
  • You didn’t intend to steal,
  • The property owner consented you to take the property, or
  • You are falsely accused.


California PC 459 refers to Burglary as entering a locked structure, room, or vehicle with intent to commit theft or a felony. Even if you merely enter a residential or commercial building without completing the theft or felony, you can be charged with this crime. Some of the examples of burglaries include:

  1. Gaining access into a building with the intent to commit felony assault.
  2. Enter a department store with the intent to steal particular merchandise.
  3. Forcibly enter in a locked car with the purpose to steal something in it.

California Burglary is divided into two categories, which are first degree and second-degree Burglary. The first-degree Burglary occurs in cases where the Burglary occurs in the place of residence of the victim and not in a commercial structure. When arrested for first degree or residential Burglary, you will be charged with a felony.

Second-degree Burglary, on the other hand, is committed when a person enters a store or commercial building with the intention or purpose of committing a crime.

First degree penalties include two, four, or five years in state prison because it is a felony. On the other hand, the second degree or commercial Burglary penalties differ depending on the charges you are facing. For a misdemeanor second degree Burglary, the penalty is 364 days in county jail, while for a felony second-degree Burglary, a convict is sentenced to sixteen, two, or three years in county jail.

The prosecution in these cases of Burglary must prove that:

  • The defendant entered a room within a building, a structure or a locked car, or
  • The purpose of gaining access to the building was to commit theft or a felony.

To fight these charges, you can assert that:

  • You have been mistaken for someone else (mistaken identity),
  • You had no purpose or intent to commit the crime, and
  • You were claiming what is rightfully yours.

Auto Burglary

According to the California law, a person is charged with Auto Burglary if they enter in locked automobile or trunk with the intent to steal the car, take the property in the vehicle, or commit any California felony in someone’s automobile. A crime of Burglary in California is not necessarily breaking in a house; it involves breaking into automobiles or intent to commit a felony in someone’s car.

Breaking in alone is not enough to convict an offender of Auto Burglary. It will be considered breaking into someone’s automobile if you smash the windows of a locked vehicle, reach through an open window to try and open the door of a car without the owner’s consent, or use a screwdriver to open the trunk. On the other hand, entering a vehicle involves any of your body parts being inside or some of your belongings being in the car.

Someone who commits a Grand Theft by trying to steal someone’s car, steal something inside the vehicle or kidnapping someone locked inside a car is deemed to have committed an Auto Burglary because of intending to commit a California felony.

To be charged with Auto Burglary, it is not necessary to have committed the crime, all that is needed to convict you is to prove that you or the defendant broke into a car to commit California theft or felony. There are two types of Auto Burglary:

  • Grand Larceny

One commits Auto Burglary and Grand Larceny when they steal or take a property valued at $950 and above from an automobile, according to Penal Code 487(d)(1). You could be charged with Grand Larceny plus Auto Burglary if you entered a vehicle with the intent to steal it.

  • Petty Larceny

As codified under PC 490, if you break into a car and steal property less than $950, you will be charged with both Petty Larceny and Auto Burglary.

Other offenses relating to Auto Burglary include looting, tampering with a vehicle, or attempted Burglary. Penal Code 463 defines looting as violating PC 459 during a state of emergency. Those convicted of plunder can face a sentence of 364 days to three years in jail.

If you break into a vehicle, tamper with it, remove property or part of the car without the consent of the owner, you will be violating California VC 10852.

Auto Burglary is a second-degree Burglary and can be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony. According to PC 461, (b) a misdemeanor second-degree Burglary is punishable with 364 days in jail. Felony second-degree Burglary is punishable by sixteen months, two or three years sentence in a county jail under PC 1170(H).

The prosecutor must show that you entered a locked vehicle, or you entered the auto with the intent to commit theft or any other California felony.

To defend yourself against these charges, you or your criminal defense attorney must assert that:

  • You had no intent to commit the crime,
  • The car was unlocked,
  • You had the consent of the car owner,
  • There are weaknesses or inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case,
  • You acted out of duress after a threat, or
  • You were falsely identified as the person who committed the crime.


California Penal Code 503 defines Embezzlement using the following elements:

  • The owner of the property entrusted it to you,
  • The act of assigning you with the property was out of trust,
  • The defendant fraudulently used the property for his or her benefit, and
  • The defendant did so to deprive the owner use, value, or enjoyment of the property.

Anyone can be charged with Embezzlement, and it does not necessarily involve white-collar jobs or large sums of money.

The penalties for Embezzlement

In California, Embezzlement is charged either as Grand Theft or Petty Theft. The type of charge you face depends on the value of the property. Grand Theft by Embezzlement is for offenders who have stolen property whose value is more than $950, stolen an automobile, or firearm.

Petty Theft by Embezzlement, on the other hand, is for taking property whose value is up to $950 and excludes automobile and firearms. The penalty for misdemeanor Petty Theft Embezzlement is six months in county jail. However, for a misdemeanor Grand Theft Embezzlement, the penalty is up to 364 days in county jail. Those charged with felony Grand Theft Embezzlement if found guilty can be incarcerated for up to three years in prison.

The legal defense for Embezzlement includes arguing that:

  • You had a belief in good faith that you had right to the property,
  • You had no criminal purpose, or
  • You are falsely accused.

Receiving Stolen Property

Receiving Stolen Property is codified under Penal Code 496. According to the code, it is criminal to buy, receive, conceal, sell, withhold from the owner any property that you know is stolen or acquired through a manner involving theft or extortion.

For instance, if you buy something from an online store like a second-hand phone and it has no serial number, and you fail to ask the owner how he or she obtained it, if you are arrested you might be convicted of Receiving Stolen Goods if the seller had stolen the phone. Receiving, in this case, means possessing. The stolen item can be owned physically by more than one person or constructively possessed. You can be charged with constructive possession even if you don't physically have the property. Having control over stolen property alone is deemed as possessing.

On the other hand, the property will be termed as stolen if it was obtained through theft (grand or petty), Burglary, or robbery.

Penalties for Receiving Stolen Property

Receiving Stolen Property is charged either a misdemeanor or felony with each having different consequences. For misdemeanor Receiving Stolen Property, the penalties are a maximum of 364 days in county jail or a fine not exceeding $1000.

Felony Receiving Stolen Property penalties are sixteen months, two years, or three years in jail or a fine of up to $10,000.

The legal defense for these charges includes arguing that:

  • The defendant didn’t know that the goods or merchandise was stolen,
  • The defendant wasn’t aware he or she possessed stolen property, or
  • The defendant had innocent intent or purpose of returning the stolen goods to the police immediately after receiving them and voluntary intoxication.

For one to use voluntary intoxication as a form of defense, they must prove they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which made it difficult to realize the goods were stolen.


Shoplifting under California Penal Code 459.5 is defined as entering a commercial building or business during working hours with the intent to take property without consent or steal the property of a value not exceeding $950. Taking ownership without consent after regular or normal working hours will be considered a Burglary.

If you enter a commercial establishment without the intent to steal but then decide to take some merchandise once you are inside, it will not be considered as Burglary.

Penalties for Shoplifting

Defendants convicted of Shoplifting will face up to six months in county jail and a fine of one thousand dollars for misdemeanor Shoplifting. Because not every California Shoplifting crime is considered a misdemeanor, defendants who have a prior criminal record will be charged with a felony Shoplifting. Some of the serious crimes that can make Shoplifting a felony include homicide and any other offense that requires you to register as a sex offender.

Legal defenses for Shoplifting include assertion by the defendants that:

  • They were entrapped.
  • Insufficient or insubstantial evidence.
  • They had no intent or purpose.
  • Factual innocence. It happens when police mistake you for another person who has been reported of Shoplifting, or when the business owner falsely accuses you.
  • The civil compromise also acts as a strong defense, where the defendant agrees to pay the property owner for all loses.

Common Defenses for Theft Crimes

Defeating these charges is very important to your freedom and criminal history. An experienced criminal defense attorney will help you by analyzing the case to find loopholes in the prosecution’s case, such as insufficient evidence to prove the defendant is guilty.

If the evidence against you is sufficient to prove you are guilty, the attorney can still argue to have the charges reduced or dismissed. First-time offenders can get this defense as long as they promise to undergo theft counseling or repay everything they have been convicted of stealing.

What the Prosecutor Must Show in these Cases

Whatever the charges you are facing, the prosecution must prove the following things:

  • The defendant took property owned by another person.
  • The property owner didn’t consent to property taken by the defendant,
  • During the time of taking, the defendant had no intention of returning the property or had the purpose of holding the item for a specified period, and
  • The defendant moved the property and kept it.

Reach an Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer Law Firm Near Me

If you or someone close to you is accused of Petty Theft, Grand Theft, Auto Burglary, Shoplifting, Embezzlement, Receiving Stolen Goods or any other type of theft, contact us through 714-740-7171 and speak to one of our attorneys. We will protect your rights by putting up the best legal defense that will seek to have the theft crime charges reduced or dismissed. Call today!