Legal Definition of Petty Theft
California PC 484 states that petty theft is committed when an individual:
- Takes an item or property indirectly from the owner, and
- The property has a dollar value that is not more than nine hundred and fifty dollars.
If someone unlawfully takes a property directly from the owner, they are charged with mugging or robbery but not petty theft. As such, PC 484 defines petty theft as unlawfully taking of personal property that belongs to another individual. Keep in mind that intentionally and illegally taking ownership like a firearm, motor vehicle, one of the enumerated foods or animals valued at two hundred and fifty dollars and above will not be charged under PC 484. Most of these will be charged as grand theft offenses.
Types of Petty Theft
The elements that the prosecution will use to charge a defendant of petty theft keep changing based on the type of theft committed. Below are some of the various kinds of petty theft:
Theft by False Pretense
The type of theft is codified under PC 532, and it is defined as the willful and intentional use of false pretense to convince a property owner to turn over ownership of the property to you. The prosecution in these cases focus more on trying to prove the following elements to convict you:
- You knowingly used false pretense to lie to a property owner by using a fraudulent pretense
- Your intention at that time was to convince the owner of the property or its agents to turn over the possession
- The owner of the property relied on the false pretense to turn over possession of the property
Therefore, if the prosecution can prove the above elements in Jane’s case, then she will be found guilty.
Theft by Larceny
Larceny is the most prevalent type of petty theft, and it involves the physical carrying of a property that doesn’t belong to you. If arrested, the prosecution will use the following elements to charge your friend:
- He or she took possession of an item owned by someone else
- When he or she took the item, they had no consent from the owner
- By taking the property, the intention was to deny the victim or the item owner of it permanently or long enough to deprive the rightful owner of its enjoyment
- He or she moved your property and kept it for any period
Theft by Trick
Theft by trick is almost like theft by false pretense. However, the two differ in that for theft by trick cases, the owner of the item or property merely passes it on to the defendant but not turning over its ownership. On the other hand, false pretense involves turning over ownership. Therefore, if your friend has a phone that needs repair and you offer to repair it, in case you fail to return the phone, your friend will still be the rightful owner of the property and all that he or she has been denied is possession. In such a case, you will be charged with theft by trick.
Theft by Embezzlement
Embezzlement is also considered a type of petty theft. It occurs in cases where a property has been entrusted to you by the owner out of trust, but you decide to fraudulently convert or use the property to benefit yourself with the intent to deny the owner the item or its use temporarily. You will be deemed to have embezzled or used another person’s property fraudulently if you take advantage of them and cause loss as a result of a breach of confidence.
Differences Between Petty Theft and Grand Theft
These two types of theft crimes are very different. Some of the differences include:
- In petty theft, the value of property stolen is nine hundred and fifty dollars or less while in grand theft, the value of the item stolen must be higher than $950.
- In petty theft, the stolen item is not directly taken from the owner, but in grand theft, the property or item is taken directly from the owner, regardless of the dollar value of the item.
- Petty theft doesn’t involve stealing of automobiles, firearms, fruits, and nuts whose dollar value is more than two hundred and fifty dollars, and fish and aquacultural products valued more than $250 stolen from a commercial fishery. Grand theft, on the other hand, involves taking all the enumerated types of properties that are exempted in petty theft.
- After a petty theft arrest, the case is charged as a misdemeanor, while grand theft is a wobbler offense.
- The penalties for petty theft are; summary probation, a sentence of not more than six months in jail, and a fine of up to one thousand dollars. For grand theft, the penalties for a misdemeanor conviction are twelve months maximum jail term and up to three years sentence for a felony conviction.
Differences Between Petty Theft and Shoplifting
Shoplifting is considered as entering a store or any other commercial establishment during normal business hours to commit petty theft. The two offenses differ in that with shoplifting; the prosecution needs to show you had a plan or intent to steal. It’s not a must for the defendant to have succeeded in taking the item. If you succeed to shoplift items worth dollars nine hundred and fifty or less, you will be charged with petty theft and not shoplifting because you managed to steal. However, if you were arrested because of intending to steal in a store, you will be charged with shoplifting. The prosecution cannot charge you with both offenses. They have to pick either. The penalties for the two crimes are also similar.
Common Defenses for Petty Theft
Being convicted of petty theft in California attracts heavy penalties. However, being charged with the offense doesn’t mean you are guilty of the crime. Hiring the right attorney can help you to avoid these consequences. Some of the defenses your attorney can use in your case include:
You had no intent to steal the property or item
If you didn’t intend to take the property, then you can’t be found guilty of petty theft. The requisite element of intent will be missing, which means you didn’t steal the item. Lack of intent applies mostly in cases involving shoplifting.
- The owner of the property consented
Also, your defense attorney can claim that when you received the property, you had permission from the owner. If the individual who owns the item permitted you to take it, then you didn’t commit any crime.
- You believed the property that was stolen belonged to you
Your attorney could apply this defense if the property in question belonged to you. If it didn’t belong to you, the attorney could still argue that you mistakenly had good faith to believe that you owned the item or you were entitled to its possession. With such defense, then the crime of petty theft didn’t occur. Remember that even if the mistake is unreasonable, with evidence to show that it was a mistake of fact, then you cannot be convicted.
- Carrying away
An excellent legal representative can use asportation as legal defense too. If you didn’t move or carry the item you are being charged with stealing; then you are not guilty of theft.
- False accusation
If you have any evidence to show that you were framed or wrongly arrested, then the charges can be dropped. Your criminal defense attorney must table enough evidence to convince the jury that you are wrongfully blamed for the petty theft.
Penalties for Petty Theft of Property under $50
PC 490 and 490.1 focus on penalties for the crime of petty theft. The penalties depend on the value of the property in question. For a first time offender who is being charged with petty theft of an item whose worth or dollar value is less than fifty dollars, the penalties include:
- Informal probation
- Two hundred and fifty dollars in fine if you are charged with an infraction
- One thousand dollars for a misdemeanor charge
Stealing a property whose value is less than $50 can be an infraction or misdemeanor. Being charged with an infraction is an advantage because you will not spend time in custody. However, if you are facing misdemeanor charges, you will spend six months in jail if convicted.
For those persons being charged with petty theft and have a prior conviction, but never served any sentence in jail, they can only be charged with a misdemeanor type of violation. However, if you have no disqualifying offenses, petty theft becomes a wobbler. It means you can either be charged with a felony or misdemeanor depending on the circumstances of the case.
When convicted of petty theft with a disqualifying factor, the penalties for a misdemeanor are up to twelve months in county jail while for a felony conviction, you will serve up to three years in a California prison. Aside from custody, additional consequences include formal or informal probation and parole in a few incidences.
Impact on Undocumented Immigrants
Theft is deemed a moral turpitude crime. It is unacceptable and immoral, which means it can be used as a basis for deporting someone or destroying a reputation in society. For undocumented non-citizens, the conviction of petty theft will prevent you from reentering the United States for five years. Within those years, if you want to enter the U.S., you must get permission from the attorney general.
Expungement of Petty Theft
With the negative impact of a petty theft conviction, having the record cleared is beneficial. Keep in mind that most employers want to hire people who can be trusted. If you have been convicted of petty theft in the past, even if you are reformed, society will still consider you a dishonest person. Employers will be afraid of hiring you since they fear you might steal from them or their customers.
Clearing such a criminal record, therefore, means potential employers and any other person will not see anything to do with your criminal record, arrest, and penalties. Expungement is consequently used as a tool for giving a second chance to people who have been convicted of various crimes.
For the record to be cleared, you must file a motion with the court. They will hear your petition and evaluate the evidence presented to determine if you deserve a second chance or not. Your expungement attorney must present evidence to show why your criminal history should be cleared. If the prosecution has any reason to believe you are not eligible for an expungement, then they will object to the motion. However, if the petition goes through, you have a reason to smile because your criminal history will be slate clean.
Offenses Related to Petty theft
Certain crimes can be charged alongside or instead of petty theft. These offenses include:
- Petty theft with a prior,
- Burglary, and
- Auto theft.
Society considers theft as dishonest and contrary to morality. As such, if you are convicted of this crime, it will be almost impossible to regain your reputation. Also, if you are an undocumented immigrant, you will be facing deportation. When facing a petty theft charge, you should not lose hope because, with the Long Beach Criminal Attorney, you can successfully have the charges dropped or reduced. We dedicate our best attorneys to guide you and ensure you don’t get a permanent criminal record or damage your reputation. Call us today at 562-308-7807 for a free consultation.