What is grand theft in California

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


If you were charged with this crime, the theft attorneys at Lluis Law in Los Angeles offer you a strong defense. We are known as one of the best criminal lawyers in the city.

Feel free to call us and request a free consultation to review your case and give you the best guidance. Remember that early intervention can make the difference between freedom and jail.

What is the crime of grand theft in California in 2020 

According to California law, grand theft is the illegal taking of another person’s property whose value is greater than $ 950. When the property has a value less than this figure, the charge imposed is for petty theft. 

However, grand larceny or grand theft as is known in California, also includes:

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

Types of grand theft

  • Theft by larceny.
  • Theft by false pretense.
  • Theft for scam.
  • Theft for embezzlement.

Theft by larceny

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

  • The accused appropriated another’s property;
  • He/she took it without permission from the owner;
  • By taking ownership he/she intended to:
    • Keep it permanently depriving the owner of its use and enjoyment.
    • Take it for a long enough period depriving the owner of a significant portion of its value or enjoyment.
  • The property was moved (even if the distance was short) and it was held for a time (long or short).

Theft by false pretense

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

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

  • Deceiving another person with subterfuge (pretending to be a computer technician or mechanic for example);
  • In order to convince her/him to deliver a property (phone, motorcycle) to be repaired;
  • Which is taken, transferred and not returned.
grand theft by false pretense

To prove the deception, the prosecutor must present evidence that incriminates the accused without leaving any doubt. You must show that the victim was cheated when handing over the property under trial.

For example:

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

Such requirements, required by the California Penal Code, seek to prevent the accused from becoming a victim as well.

Because it could be the case of an agreement between the parties. But then one of the parties regrets having given the good to the other person. 

To break the agreement, he/she then falsely accuses the other of using a trick to obtain good.

Theft by trick

This modality of the theft crime is similar to that of grand theft by false pretense. The only difference is that the victim formally transfers the property to the alleged criminal. That is, it transfers the property through the signing of a property title.

Although the intention is not that you take possession for its use, enjoyment and full disposition permanently.

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

  • The property was obtained from another person who is its legal owner.
  • The defendant used deception or fraud to strip the owner of the property with his consent.
  • The property was taken with the intention of:
    • Permanently deprive its owner of the property; or
    • Retain it for a period of time significant enough to deprive its owner of the value or enjoyment of his property.
  • The property was held by the defendant for some time (short or long term); and
  • The true owner of the property did not intend to transfer the property to him/her permanently.

Theft by embezzlement

The crime consists of misappropriating financial funds transferred to another person for their correct administration.

The elements that legally define grand theft by embezzlement are:

  • The owner of the funds entrusted his administration to the accused.
  • The defendant held a position or position of trust established by the owner that allowed him to dispose of the funds.
  • The funds owned by the other person were fraudulently taken and used for their own benefit.
  • The intention was to deprive the owner of the funds permanently or temporarily.

Under this theft modality, it cannot be invoked that the defendant intended to return the property later. Mainly because the crime is committed from the moment the misappropriation occurs.

How is grand theft processed?

In grand larceny 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 which of them violated. 

It is sufficient to establish that the crime was committed when taking possession of the property of another person.

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

The name of the crime changes when there is no unanimity in the jury’s verdict on the crime of grand theft. Consequently, if the jury accepts that a theft was committed, the person would be convicted of a felony theft offense.

Penalties for grand theft in California

The criminalization of this crime depends on the value of the stolen and the circumstances surrounding the fact. Grand theft in California, like all other property crimes, carries prison terms and fines.

Imprisonment

  • Grand larceny sanctioned as a misdemeanor. It is punishable by up to one year in prison in a county jail.
  • Grand larceny sanctioned as a serious crime. It is punishable by up to three years in prison in a state jail.

If the accused is a repeat offender, he/she can be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. 

Fines for grand theft

  • Fines for minor offenses. Less than $ 1,000
  • Fines for serious crimes. More than $ 100,000.

Restitution of the stolen property

The sanction for the crime of theft generally also includes the return or restitution of the stolen property. The return of the stolen property is made directly to the legitimate owner. 

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

Probation

The court may also order the convicted person to serve a trial period. Such probation is generally 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 compounded when the defendant commits the crime with a firearm. Since the mere carrying of the weapon constitutes a crime. In addition, it will be filed as a single crime (one strike) on the defendant’s criminal record.

The additional prison time to the crime of grand theft are several and include: 

  • One 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

For a person to be convicted of the crime of grand theft, the prosecutor must prove it. So an accusation does not mean a conviction. A good expert 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 of a grand theft conviction is proving the defendant’s intention to steal.

property theft

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

1. There was no intention. The prosecuting party must prove that the client attempted to steal the property. If the prosecutor cannot prove it then he/she cannot be convicted of this crime. 

Beyond all reasonable doubt, the client only borrowed it. For example, a neighbor’s lawn mower you needed to mow your own garden. 

. Claim of right . This means that the defendant was convinced that the property taken was his. For this defense to prosper, there can be no allegation of concealment of property after the fact.

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

3. There was consent from the victim. The property was taken with the permission of its owner. However, such consent is within an appropriate framework. It will not work if the property was transferred but the defendant used it for another purpose.

For example, he loaned the defendant a motorcycle to go to work and instead went to a party and crashed it. In these cases, even when the accused claims to have returned the property taken, he cannot excuse the crime of grand theft.   

4. False accusation. It is not uncommon to see trials where the accused are victims of false accusations by people seeking to harm them. This is particularly frequent in cases of commercial agreements.

The defense in this case will consist of proving that the client has been falsely accused. But the other party with the burden of proof must prove that the client committed the crime. For this you must present concrete and irrefutable evidence.      

What is an example of grand theft?

There are several examples of grand theft. Here are three of them where stolen items have a market value of more than $ 950:

  • Stealing a laptop or mobile phone.
  • Stealing an expensive watch from a top brand.
  • Remove the wallet from a woman’s purse while walking on a sidewalk.

Difference between grand 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 find out what grand theft is in California, it’s good to know about petty theft. The basic difference between the two categories of crime is the value of the stolen property. 

California Code 487 PC makes this fundamental difference nowadays. However 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 on the basis of $ 950 a person could be charged with grand theft if:

  • The property taken included a firearm;
  • The property taken included a car;
  • The property taken included certain animals (bull, horse, pig, sheep); or
  • The property was taken from its owner when he/she had it with him/her or was in the possession of another person.
what is petty theft

For further information on the petty theft crime please visit our blog post “What is petty theft“.

Penalties for grand theft in California still apply to these thefts, regardless of the value of the property stolen. In cases where the accused has already been convicted of any of the following crimes:

  • Registered sex offenses under the California Sex Offender Registry Law, or
  • Serious crimes including murder, crimes of sexual violence, rape and sexual abuse of minors.
  • Due to the previous conviction, the accused will be punished for the crime of grand theft. While any other person without a history for the aforementioned crimes is sanctioned for petty theft.
  • Repeatedly taking money or property less than $ 950 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.

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. If you have been charged, we can represent and advise you throughout the criminal process. As defense attorneys we always strive to protect the rights of our clients. Call us right now and we can serve you as you deserve and need.