Many people consider theft or shoplifting to be a minor offense, however, even a petty theft conviction can have significant consequences on your ability to find a job, or obtain a state license and other benefits.

Theft crimes in California are either misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the value of what was taken, and the way in which the item was taken. Theft crimes involving the use of a weapon are considered “strike” offenses, and carry a mandatory state prison sentence.

Some theft crimes are considered “wobblers”, which means that the prosecutor has the discretion to file misdemeanor charges or felony charges. The prosecutor will consider the defendant’s prior criminal history, the severity of the allegations, and a number of other factors in making this determination.

Consequently, a theft conviction may result in state prison time or up to one year in the county jail, counseling classes, probation, substantial  fines, and restitution.

The most common theft crimes are “petty theft” - Penal Code 484(a), shoplifting - Penal Code 459.5, and grand theft - Penal Code 487.

Petty Theft - Penal Code 484(a)

In California, petty theft is defined as:

  • the intentional taking of property
  • of another
  • when the property is valued at $950 or less.

(note: if the property is taken directly from another person’s body, or force or threat of force is used, the crime is no longer a petty theft). The value of the property is determined by the actual sales price or the items fair market value.

A petty theft conviction has a maximum sentence of up to six months in jail and may include, court fines, restitution to the victim and possibly to law enforcement for the cost of investigation, up to 36 months of probation, community service and counseling. Practically speaking, on a first time petty they charge it is extremely unlikely that anyone would serve jail time. A reasonable outcome would be summary probation, fines, and restitution to the victim. Depending on the facts of the case, if this is a first offense, my goal is always to get my clients diversion, and have the charges dismissed.

Pursuant to California Penal Section 490.1, if the property is valued at $50 or less and you have no other theft or theft-related convictions on your record, your may be able to have your charges reduced to an infraction.

Shoplifting - Penal Code 459.5

In California, shoplifting is defined as:

  • entering an open business
  • with the intent to steal items
  • that are worth $950 or less

Put simply, shoplifting is entering an open business with the intent to commit a petty theft.

The maximum sentence in a shoplifting case is 6 months in county jail and/or a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000). Shoplifting is usually charged as a misdemeanor, with the exception to this being if the defendant has a serious prior felony conviction (e.g. homicide, or anything that requires sex offender registration). If this is the case then shoplifting may be charged as a felony, with much a more substantial punishment.

Grand Theft - Penal Code 487

In California, grand theft is defined as:

  • the intentional taking of money, labor, or real or personal property
  • of another
  • and the property is valued at $950 or more or
  • the property taken is either an automobile or a firearm

Grand theft in California is considered a “wobbler” meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. This will depend on (1) the specific facts of the case and (2) the criminal history of the defendant.

If convicted of grand theft as a misdemeanor the maximum punishment is up to one year in county jail. If convicted of grand theft as a felony the maximum punishment can range from 16 months to 3 years in state prison.

Because the consequences of being charged with a theft crime can be substantial, it is important to have an understanding of what you are facing, and know the best way to defend your case. Hiring a skilled defense attorney can have a huge impact on the outcome of your case, and ultimately be the difference between a conviction or having your case dismissed.

I handle a variety of California Theft charges, including:

Burglary (Penal Code 459)

Shoplifting (Penal Code 459.5)

Grand Theft (Penal Code 487)

Petty Theft  (Penal Code 488)

Receiving Stolen Property (Penal Code 496)

Embezzlement (Penal Code 503)

Contact Us Now

If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges I invite you to contact the Law Office of Miles Booth by calling 424 272 1134 or emailing me at

I will provide you with a free case evaluation to help you determine the best available options for your case, as well as what steps we can take to help ensure your freedom.