If you are accused of stealing in California, the charges will be filed as either grand theft or petty theft, depending on the value of the goods stolen. Grand theft, also known as grand larceny, occurs when stolen property is valued at $950 or more, whereas petty theft is charged when the value is lower. If you have been accused of this criminal offense, speak with a theft attorney as soon as possible
Grand Theft Charges in California
Under Penal Code 487 (PC), there are some situations where grand theft charges may be filed even if the value of the stolen property was below $950. If the theft involves taking fruit, vegetables, nuts, or fowl from a farm or orchard, the property only needs to be valued at $250 to be grand larceny. The illegal taking of a firearm is always grand theft, regardless of the weapon’s value. Finally, anyone accused of taking property directly from another person’s hand or body will be charged with grand theft, regardless of the property’s value.
While most people envision this crime as always involving physically snatching money or goods (formally known as grand theft by larceny), it can also involve the use of fraud. Theft by false pretenses is filed under 532 (PC) and involves knowingly and intentionally conning someone into allowing you to take control of their property. Another alternative form of theft is embezzlement (sometimes called employee theft), which involves taking money or property you were entrusted with by the rightful owner.
Similarly, while most people think of taking money and goods, theft laws also cover the taking of services. For example, you could be charged with grand theft if you went to a high-end spa and got thousands of dollars worth of massages, manicures, facials, and other services before running out the door without paying.
What is the Penalty for 487 (PC)?
This offense is considered a wobbler offense, meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. If you are charged with a misdemeanor for grand theft in California, your will face up to one year of jail time. If charged as a misdemeanor, your criminal defense attorney can help you apply for a diversion program so no theft conviction will ever occur and your record will stay clean. Typically, misdemeanor diversion programs require participants to pay full restitution to the victim, participate in volunteer work, and sometimes undergo counseling.
If you face felony charges, you could be sentenced to as long as three years in state prison, depending on the circumstances. In some cases, you could also face lengthier sentences if the value of the stolen items is particularly high. When the items are worth over $65,000, the penalty may be increased by one year in prison. If it is over $200,000, your prison sentence could go up another two years. If the property was valued at over $1,300,000, the penalty can go up by three years. In extreme cases, where the theft was valued at more than $3,200,000, you could face an additional four years in prison. Because these enhancements are added to the base-level sentence for these offenses, this means a very high-value theft could be punishable by up to 7 total years in prison.
In most cases, grand theft is not considered a strike under the three strikes law, but grand theft of a firearm is considered a serious felony, meaning it is a strikeable offense. Anyone convicted of this crime who has a previous strike on their record will have their sentence doubled. If the individual has two prior strikes on their record, they could be sentenced to 25 years to life imprisonment.
Minimizing Your Sentence
Because the value of the property is so significant in these cases, it is common for grand theft lawyers to have the charge reduced to petty theft when the stolen items were valued at just over $950. Having the charges reduced to petty theft is quite beneficial because this level of offense is always a misdemeanor and the maximum sentence is only six months in county jail.
Even when your attorney cannot have the charges reduced, he can still work to ensure you face misdemeanor-level charges. California law allows prosecutors the discretionary power to file grand theft charges as a misdemeanor or felony, and your defense lawyer can help convince them to file the charge as a lesser offense. Whether or not your attorney can successfully talk the prosecutor into filing a misdemeanor will be based on numerous factors, including your criminal history, the nature of the theft, and the value of the stolen property.
Defenses to Grand Theft
Depending on your specific case, your attorney may use a variety of defenses to help you fight grand theft charges. In some cases, illegal search and seizure, improper arrests, or wrongful accusations may result in the charges being dropped. Sometimes, you may be able to argue that you had no intent to steal an item, that you simply had not paid for the item yet, or that the item in question was actually your property and not stolen at all.
Finally, some situations may be best handled through a plea bargain requiring you to admit guilt in exchange for a minimized sentence. Taking an anti-theft class may also help you avoid harsher punishment in these cases.
Every criminal case is different, and only an experienced criminal defense lawyer can ensure you get the right defense for your specific circumstances. Peter M. Liss can help you if you are accused of any theft crimes. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation.