California Penal Code 484 and 488 define theft as the unlawful taking of another individual’s property. The crime of petty theft varies based on the nature of the theft, the location of the crime and the value of the goods taken. The exact value of goods at which a petty theft becomes grand theft is $950. California petty theft will be charged when that property is valued at $950 or less. The typical shoplifting crime occurs in one of four ways:

  1. Taking and carrying away another individual’s property without consent. This is the most typical form of petty theft, usually seen in a shoplifting prosecution (“larceny”).
  2. Changing the price tag on an item to pay a lesser amount for it (“trick”) is another form of petty theft or shoplifting.
  3. Depriving another of something after it was entrusted to you constitutes theft, often characterized as embezzlement. A common example of embezzlement is when your employer gives you access to the checking account or a credit card and you use it for your own purpose or gain.
  4. Making false representations to obtain possession and title to money, labor, personal property or land (“false pretenses”) is another form of theft.

Petty theft or shoplifting is always a misdemeanor. Grand theft (offense over $950) may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on (1) your criminal history, and (2) the circumstances of your case. This is called a “wobbler” in the law.

It is noteworthy that stealing a car of any value can be charged as Grand Theft Auto. If an individual enters a business or store with the intent to commit a theft of any kind inside, the prosecutor will likely also charge the defendant with Burglary (Penal Code 459). If a defendant uses force or threats of intimidation or harm to acquire property from someone else, this is Robbery pursuant to Penal Code 211.

Receiving Stolen Property

If you purchase or receive an item you knows or have reason to believe is stolen, you can be charged with Receiving Stolen Property pursuant to Penal Code 496. The same crime of Receiving Stolen Property applies if you obtain the property from someone who purchased or received stolen goods or merchandise from another.

Some of the Defenses to Petty Theft — Shoplifting

1. Consent

If you were given consent to take the item in question, that constitutes a defense to petty theft. Someone who consents to giving you money or property cannot later change his or her mind causing you to be charged with the crime of petty theft or shoplifting.

2. Claimed Right Defense (the claimed stolen item belongs to you)

We can assert this defense to a charge of petty theft when our client had a good faith belief (even if mistaken belief) that the item belonged to you. For example, if you took money from another person who owed you that amount of money, we will argue you did not have the intent to steal the money.

3. Absent-Minded Defense (forgetting to either put back the merchandise or pay)

As our client accused of petty theft or shoplifting, we will seek to determine whether you really had the intent to steal. At Spital & Associates, many people get charged with Petty Theft and/or Shoplifting, but never intended to commit a crime. For example, they walk out of a store while using their cell phone, intending to go to their car to get their wallet or purse, and/or are distracted because they are paying attention to something else they are doing (i.e. their child is crying). As the highest-rated San Diego Petty Theft Attorneys, we will seek to persuade the prosecutor and judge that you did not have the requisite intent to steal.

4. You Are the Victim

Occasionally a person is arrested for petty theft and/or shoplifting when he or she in fact is an innocent victim. For example, if you are at a store with another person and that individual places an item in your purse or bag to divert attention from himself or herself, you may be arrested while the other person is not charged with shoplifting or a petty theft crime.

Get in touch with a San Diego petty theft lawyer from Spital & Associates to fight theft charges in San Diego, California.


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The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.