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Penal Code 487 defines what is grand theft in California, another of the crimes against property. Like petty theft, it is considered a crime.

If you were accused of this crime, the theft lawyers of Lluis Law in Los Angeles offer you an energetic defense. For this reason, we are known as one of the best criminal defense lawyers in Los Angeles.

Do not hesitate to call us and request a private consultation to review your case and give you the best guidance. Remember that early intervention can make the difference between freedom and jail.


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What Is The Crime Of Grand Theft In California In 2024

Under California law, grand theft is the unlawful taking of another person’s property valued at more than $950. When the property has a value lower than this figure, the charge that is imposed is for petty theft. 

The classification of grand theft in California (also known as grand larceny) also includes the misappropriation of:

  • Farm products. This includes crops and domestic poultry worth more than $250.
  • Agricultural and marine products taken from a research center with a value greater than $250.
  • Cash or jewelry valued at more than $950.
  • Value of a worker’s labor. Incomplete wages paid by an employer over a 12-month period in excess of $950.
  • Other stolen property (firearm, car, horse, or any other farm animal, regardless of value).
property theft

What Dollar Amount Is Considered Grand Theft?

Thefts over $950 are considered grand theft or grand larceny. Read on and you will find out how a person commits or incurs the crime of grand theft.

Types Of Grand Theft

To know what the crime is, we must know that there are several types of grand theft or Grand Theft, as it is called in California. These are grand theft by larceny, false pretenses, trick or embezzlement.

Grand Theft By Larceny

The crime is committed when one takes the property of another and carries it away. The key elements to define it legally are the following:

  • The defendant appropriated someone else’s property;
  • They took it without the owner’s permission;
  • By taking the property they intended to:
    • Retain it permanently, depriving the owner of its use and enjoyment.
    • Taking it for a period long enough to deprive the owner of a significant portion of its value or enjoyment.
  • The property was moved (albeit a short distance) and held for a time (long or short).

Grand Theft By False Pretenses

This type of crime is typified in the California Penal Code 532 PC. It consists of deceiving, hiding information and making a false promise to take possession of someone else’s property and retain it.

The elements that constitute the crime of grand theft in this case are: 

  • Tricking another person with subterfuge (pretending to be a computer technician or mechanic, for example);
  • In order to convince the victom to hand over a good (phone, motorcycle) to be repaired;
  • Which is taken, transferred and not returned.

To prove false pretenses, the prosecutor must submit evidence that incriminates the defendant beyond any doubt. You must show that the victim was deceived at the time of delivering the property that is the subject of the trial.

Examples Of Grand Theft By False Pretenses

  • A false receipt, deed, contract, or check written and signed by the defendant;
  • The testimony of at least two witnesses; or
  • Witness testimony and additional evidence.

You may be interested in reviewing in depth the crime of writing bad checks in California that we have covered in detail in our blog.

  • Such requirements demanded by the California Penal Code seek to prevent the accused from becoming a victim as well. 
  • It could be the case of an agreement between the parties but later one of the parties regrets having given the property to the other person.
  • To break the agreement, he then falsely accuses the other of using a deception to obtain the good. 

Grand Theft by Trick

This modality of the crime of robbery is similar to that of grand theft by false pretensions. The only difference is that the victim formally assigns the property to the alleged offender. That is, they transfer the property through the signing of a property title.

Although the intention is not that they take possession for their use, enjoyment and full disposal permanently. 

grand theft by false pretense

The elements that legally define grand theft by trick are these: 

  • The property was obtained from another person who is its legal owner.
  • Defendants used deceit or fraud to dispossess the property of its owner with their consent.
  • The property was taken with the intention of:
    • Permanently deprive its owner of the asset; either
    • Holding it for a period of time significant enough to deprive its owner of the value or enjoyment of their property.
  • Property was held by the defendant for some time (short term or long term); Y
  • The true owner of the property did not intend to transfer the property permanently.

Theft By Embezzlement

The crime consists of improperly appropriating financial funds assigned to another person for their correct administration. 

The elements that legally define grand theft by embezzlement are: 

  • Owner of the funds entrusted their management to the defendant.
  • Defendant held a position or position of trust established by the owner that allowed them to dispose of the funds.
  • Funds owned by the other person were taken and used fraudulently and for their own benefit.
  • Intent was to deprive the owner of the funds permanently or temporarily.

Under this form of theft, it cannot be invoked that the defendant intended to return the property later. The law establishes that the crime is committed from the moment the misappropriation occurs.

How Is Grand Theft Prosecuted?

In grand theft trials, if the prosecutor alleges that the person is guilty of more than one of these four modalities, the jury does not need to agree on which of them was violated.

It suffices that it establishes that the crime was committed by taking possession of another person’s property. 

The only caveat regarding the crime of grand theft is that the jury must return a unanimous verdict. Either under Penal Code 488 PC or under Penal Code 487. 

The denomination of the crime changes when there is no unanimity in the verdict of the jury on the crime of grand theft in California. Consequently, if the jury agrees that a theft was committed, the person would be convicted of the crime of petty theft.

Penalties For Grand Theft In California

The penalties for this crime depend on the value of what was stolen and the circumstances surrounding the event. Such punishments are described in section 489 of the Penal Code.

Grand theft in California, like all other property crimes, carries prison sentences and fines. 


  • Grand theft sanctioned as a misdemeanor. It is punishable by up to a year in prison in a county jail.
  • Grand theft sanctioned as a felony. You are sentenced to up to three years in state jail.

If the defendant is a repeat offender, they can be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. 

Fines For Grand Theft

  • Fines for misdemeanors. Less than $1,000
  • Fines for felonies. More than $100,000.

Restitution Of The Stolen

The penalty for the crime of theft generally also includes the return or restitution of the stolen property. Such restitution must be made directly to the rightful owner.

Instead, the fine is paid to the state and can be in an amount similar to the value of the stolen property.


The court may also order the convicted person to serve a period of probation which is usually 12 months. It can be accompanied by a prison sentence of three years or more.

Aggravating Elements 

The crime of grand theft in California is aggravated when the defendant commits the crime with a firearm. The possession of the weapon by itself constitutes a crime. In addition, it will be filed as a crime under the California law of 3 strikes in the defendant’s criminal record.

The improvements (or additional prison time) to the crime of grand theft are several and include:

  • An additional year when the value of the stolen property is greater than $65,000.
  • Two additional years when the value of the stolen property is greater than $200,000.
  • Three additional years when the value of the stolen property is greater than $1,300,000.
  • Four additional years when the value of the stolen property is greater than $3,200,000.

Possible Defenses For The Crime Of Grand Theft in California

For a person to be convicted of the crime of grand theft, the prosecutor must prove it. So an indictment does not mean a conviction. A good, knowledgeable criminal defense attorney is capable of taking an unexpected turn in a trial. 

Especially when the prosecutor’s accusations lack sufficient legal support. The most important element to a grand theft conviction is proving the defendant’s intent to steal.

Therefore, the four most common defenses to face a grand theft charge are:

1. There Was No Intention

The charging party must prove that the client attempted to steal the property. If the prosecutor cannot prove it then they cannot be convicted of this crime. 

Beyond any reasonable doubt, the client just borrowed it. For example, a neighbor’s lawn mower that they needed to mow their own yard. 

2. Claim Of Right

This means that the defendants were convinced that the property taken was theirs. For this defense to succeed, there cannot be an allegation of concealment of the property after the fact.

Nor that the property has been taken illegally, through the use of weapons or under the influence of drugs (DUI). 

DUI lawyers in los angeles

Review our blog on DUI lawyers in Los Angeles for more information on this crime.

3. There Was Consent Of The Victim

The property was taken with the permission of its owner. However, such consent must be within an appropriate framework. It will not work if the property was given away but the defendant used it for another purpose.

For example, they borrowed the defendant a motorcycle to go to work and instead went to a party and crashed it. In these cases, even when the defendant claims to have returned the property taken, they will not be able to excuse the crime of grand theft.   

4. False Accusation

It is not uncommon to see trials where defendants are victims of false accusations by individuals who seek to harm them. This is particularly prevalent in cases of commercial agreements.

The defense in this case will be to prove that the client has been falsely accused. But the other party who has the burden of proof must prove that the client committed the crime. For this, you must submit concrete and irrefutable evidence.    

What Is An Example Of Grand Theft?

There are many examples of grand theft in California. Below we mention three of them, where the stolen objects have a market value of more than $950:

  • Take a laptop or mobile phone.
  • Steal a brand name watch from a store.
  • Stealing a wallet from a woman’s purse as she walks down a sidewalk.

What Is The Bail Amount For Grand Larceny Cases In California?

State law does not set an exact amount for grand theft bail. Although each county separately sets its own amount.

In order to allow the release of a defendant, in addition to bail, the person must appear in court.

Bail bonds of this type in Los Angeles County can be up to $1,000. In contrast, in other counties you can pay up to $30,000.

How Are Multiple Grand Theft Charges Processed In The Same Case?

Individuals can be accused by the prosecution of several counts of grand theft in the same case. If they are prosecuted on multiple separate charges they will also receive multiple sentences.  

However, the defense could establish that in reality such accusations were part of the same plan. Therefore, multiple crimes of grand theft were not committed, but only one.

For example, an employee steals from their employer several times in different ways:

  1. First, they appropriate part of the money entrusted to them to purchase merchandise.
  2. Then, it registers a smaller amount of the purchased merchandise in the books to appropriate the difference.
  3. Then, sell the non-registered merchandise in inventory. 
  4. Finally, remove other goods from the warehouse.

Following the employee’s arrest, the prosecutor argues at trial that the employee committed four separate grand theft crimes.

The criminal defense attorney may argue that all of these embezzlement thefts were part of a single plan orchestrated by the employee.

If the criminal defense attorney’s arguments are successful, the court may reduce the charges against the employee. Thus, instead of being sentenced for three crimes of grand theft, they will be sentenced for only one.

Difference Between Grand Theft And Petty Theft

Just as there are differences between robbery and theft in legal terms, there are also differences between grand theft and petty theft. To know what grand theft is in California, you need to understand what petty theft is. 

The basic difference between both categories of crimes is the value of the stolen property. California Code 487 PC makes this fundamental difference nowadays. But it was not always like this. 

Before the approval of Proposition 47 (November 2014) the classification of the crime was done differently. Regardless of the value of the property based on $950 a person could be charged with grand theft if:

  • Property taken included a firearm;
  • The good taken included certain animals (bull, horse, pig, sheep); or
  • The property was taken from its legitimate owner when they had it with them or was in the possession of another person.
what is petty theft

The crime known as “Petty theft” can be read in detail in our blog named “What is petty theft”.

Do California Grand Theft Penalties Still Apply To These Thefts?

These penalties still apply to these thefts, too, regardless of the value of the stolen property. In cases where the defendant has already been convicted of any of the following crimes:

  • Registered sex offenses under the California sex offender registration law, or
  • Serious crimes including murder, crimes of sexual violence, rape and sexual abuse of minors.
  • Due to the previous conviction, the defendant will be punished for the crime of grand theft. While any other person without a criminal record for the aforementioned crimes is punished for petty theft.
  • Taking money or property worth less than $950 repeatedly can also be punished as a felony. As long as the total value of the stolen property is greater than $950 over a 12-month period.

We have covered many of these crimes on our blog, we invite you to read our section on Los Angeles sex crime attorney, murder laws in California and California rape law among others.

What Does California Law Say About The Statute Of Limitations For This Crime?

The statute of limitations for grand theft in California establishes a period of one to four years, depending on the case. 

It is generally imposed according to the longest sentence for the crime. Although the statute of limitations is usually three to four years. For petty theft it is one year.

Grand Theft Auto

Like the crime of theft of weapons that qualifies as grand theft, theft of vehicles also receives this classification. However, the penalties may be different than for other types of grand theft.

Penal Code 487(d)(1) PC also criminalizes auto theft – called “joyriding” – as grand theft. California criminal law considers it a felony. 

According to the most recent police statistics, this crime has decreased remarkably in the state.

Crimes Related To Grand Theft  

This crime is related to other forms of theft and robbery such as: 

Now you know what grand theft is in California and how to deal with it if you’ve been charged. We can offer you the best legal representation and the advice you require throughout the criminal process. 

As defense attorneys, we always strive to protect the rights of our clients. Call us now to serve you as you deserve and need. 


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