PC 484

Petty Theft

Petty Theft Charges

Petty theft, CA Penal Code 484[1], is defined by the state as anyone who steals or takes somebody else’s property (up to $950), for any amount of time, and deprives them of potential enjoyment or value of that property.

It’s important to note that firearms, livestock, and vehicles do not fall under CA Penal Code 484 but are treated as grand theft, CA Penal Code 487[2].  Any property taken directly from a person (i.e. robbing) is also treated as grant theft.

A fundamental element of petty theft is that a defendant deprives the properties owner of potential enjoyment or value.  This is important because it eliminates the loophole of returning stolen property and not being punished.  In other words, if somebody steals a CD from a store, they are not only stealing the store’s property but also a means for them to make money.

Sentencing for Petty Theft Charges

Petty theft in California is a misdemeanor.  If a defendant is found guilty and convicted of petty theft they could face:

  • Up to six (6) months in county jail
  • Up to $1,000 in fines
  • Informal probation

 Often times, if petty theft is a defendant’s first theft related crime they will usually serve little to no jail time.  In addition, if it is a defendant’s first theft related crime and the stolen property is valued at $50 or less it is possible to have the crime reduced to an infraction.  If the crime is reduced to an infraction a defendant could face:

  • Up to $250 in fines
  • Community service
  • Anti-theft classes
  • Compensation to the owner of the stolen property

Prosecuting Petty Theft Charges

Because petty theft crimes are typically associated with shoplifting there can be strong evidence against a defendant, namely, video surveillance, eye witnesses and police reports.  Often times a prosecutor can build a strong case with these pieces of evidence and it then becomes a bargaining act between the prosecutor and the defense.

If a bargain cannot be reached between the two parties then the case will eventually go to court.  It then becomes the prosecutor’s responsibility to show the evidence that he or she has acquired and prove to the court that a defendant did in fact steal someone’s property.

Defending Petty Theft Charges

 There are a few common strategies that defense attorneys use to prove that their clients don’t deserve a CA Penal Code 484 conviction.  One approach that defense attorneys take is to prove that a defendant did not intend to steal any property.  There has to be some intent in order for the incident to be considered a crime, without any intent there cannot be a conviction.

For example, perhaps a man is shopping for a shirt at a department store and while he’s shopping he gets upsetting news on the phone.  Without thinking, the man walks out of the store in order to hear the phone call more clearly and forgets the shirts were draped over his shoulders, moments later he is confronted by police and arrested for petty theft.  According to the law, this incident cannot result in a CA Penal Code 484 conviction because the man did not intend to steal the shirts.

Another approach that criminal defense attorneys can take is to prove that the “stolen” property belonged to the defendant.  In other words, if the defendant “stole” something that already belonged to himself or herself then he or she cannot be found guilty.  The attorney in this type of case has to the gather the necessary evidence to prove that the property did, in fact, belong to the defendant.  Once that has been proven, a conviction should not take place.

Criminal defense attorneys can prove that a defendant had consent to take property.  If a defendant had consent to take a specific piece of property then he or she should not be guilty of petty theft.  However, if the defendant knowingly took something that he or she wasn’t consented to take then a petty theft conviction will take place.

The final approach that a criminal defense attorney can take is to prove that a defendant was wrongfully accused of petty theft.  If the defendant was the victim of a wrongful arrest or was framed by somebody else then he or she should not be convicted.  Again, it then becomes the responsibility of the criminal defense attorney to prove the wrongful arrest and get the case dropped.

Petty theft convictions can be difficult to fight on your own due to the intimidating nature of the courts and prosecutors.  It can be extremely beneficial to utilize a criminal defense specialists to get your charges reduced or your cases dropped.

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References

[1] and [2] http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=pen&group=00001-01000&file=484-502.9

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