What is Petty Theft?
Petty theft is the unlawful taking of something valued at $950 or less. This can include:
- Theft by trick – Changing the price tag on an item so you pay less.
- Theft by embezzlement – Taking something that is entrusted to you.
- Theft by fraud – Telling someone a lie in order to get them to give you their property.
Penalties for Petty Theft
The possible penalties for petty theft with no prior include:
- Informal probation
- Up to 6 months in a county jail
- A fine up to $1000
If you have prior charges, then your penalty for petty theft may increase. Prior convictions that may increase your penalties are:
- Petty theft
- Grand theft
- Grand theft auto
- Felony receiving stolen property
It’s not enough to only have one of the crimes as a prior. It has to be one of the above crime AND one of the following needs to be true:
- Your prior conviction is for stealing from, embezzling, or defrauding an elderly person OR
- You either have a prior sex crime conviction that requires you to register as a sex offender or you have a prior conviction for a serious felony such as murder, attempted murder, vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, forcible sex crimes, or sex crimes against a child under 14 years of age.
If you qualify under these prior crimes, then your petty theft charge becomes a wobbler, meaning it can be charged as misdemeanor or a felony.
If the petty theft is charged as a misdemeanor then the maximum county jail sentence increase from 6 months to 1 year. If the petty theft is charged as felony then you may face a sentence of 16 months, 2 or 3 years in a California state prison.
Legal Defenses for Petty Theft
There are ways to fight a petty theft charge with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Here are some of the legal defenses used against petty theft:
- You didn’t have the intent to steal. – You can accidentally steal something if you get distracted, have your mind on something else, or are trying to keep track of your kids. There are a lot of ways to be distracted, and if your experienced criminal defense lawyer can convince the judge that you didn’t intend to steal anything, then you are not guilty of petty theft.
- You believed the “stolen” item actually belonged to you. – This defense can apply when the stolen item actually did belong to you or you truly believed that the stolen item did belong to you. If you believed an item belonged to you, then you didn’t have the intent to steal it, making you not guilty of petty theft.
- The person who owned the item consented to you taking it. – If the owner of the item gave you permission to take it, then it is not petty theft. If they consented to giving you the property, they cannot just change their mind and accuse you of petty theft.
- You were falsely accused. – Many people are falsely accused or framed of petty theft. This is why it’s important to have an experience criminal defense lawyer representing you.