California law defines theft as the unlawful taking of someone else’s property with the intent of keeping it permanently, but also as fraudulently taking property that has been entrusted to you; defrauding someone using false representations or pretense; taking property by false premises; larceny; embezzlement; and larceny by trick and device (pc § 484).

Property can include credit or services as well as physical objects. Identity theft; failing to return something you’ve rented or leased; taking money to do a job and then not doing it; or finding something and not returning it when the owner can be identified are all considered forms of theft.

California law divides theft crimes into two categories, grand theft (pc § 487) and petty theft (pc § 488). In most cases, prosecutors must show that the value of the things stolen is $400 or greater in order to file felony grand theft charges. Important exceptions are the theft of a firearm and theft of something that was carried on the person of another, both of which qualify as felony grand theft regardless of the value of the things taken.

Grand theft is punishable by up to one year in jail or a state prison sentence of 16 months, 2 years or three years in prison. Grand theft of amounts over $50,000 carries an additional punishment of one to two additional years in prison.

Almost all other thefts are petty thefts, a misdemeanor charge carrying up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. If the monetary value of the stolen amount is less than $50.00 prosecutors may choose to charge you with an infraction, a lesser charge that carries only a fine of up to $250.

However, if you have a prior conviction for theft and are charged with petty theft again, prosecutors can — and often do — choose to charge you with a felony that is referred to as “petty with a prior” a violation of Penal Code Section 666. If you’re convicted of a felony petty theft charge, you face the felony punishment — a year in jail or up to three years in prison.

Fortunately, the Law Offices of Brianne Doyle can often help first-time offenders with no prior theft charges reduce their charges or their punishment. If the amount of the theft was small, we may be able to work out a civil compromise in which the client compensates the victim fully for the theft in exchange for dropped charges. If charges have already been filed, it’s possible to ask the victim to appear in court and ask that they be dropped, because restitution has been made. In many petty theft cases we have been able to have the charges reduced to simple trespassing charges, which carry no jail time.

If you’re charged with felony grand theft, the experienced theft defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Brianne Doyle can often assist you in having the felony changed to a misdemeanor and asking the court to impose probation instead of jail or prison time. The court may still ask you to fulfill certain conditions, including complete restitution to victims, as a condition of the probation.

In many types of theft cases, the Law Offices of Brianne Doyle has often been able to win alternatives to jail or prison time for our clients. These alternatives include work release programs, community service, house arrest/electronic monitoring, Caltrans work programs and private counseling services that offer specialized therapy for those accused of theft. Staying out of jail or prison helps you protect your freedom, your job, your family’s financial security and your future employment prospects. If you’ve been accused of a theft crime, call the Law Offices of Brianne Doyle as soon as possible to discuss how one of our California theft crime defense lawyers can help.

A conviction for a theft offense is considered a crime of “moral turpitude”. It can have adverse consequences if you are not a citizen of the US or if you attempt to become a citizen. It also can interfere with your ability to obtain employment.