What is petty theft

In this article we will explain what theft and specially petty theft is, one of the most frequent crimes in California. The legal elements that constitute the crime and the possible defenses. 


As criminal lawyers of Lluis Law in Los Angeles, we represent people accused of this crime. We offer strong defenses and the advantage of being one of the most successful law firms in these cases. 

We have over 50 years of combined experience dealing with these types of cases. Call now and get a free consultation with any of our lawyers.

What is theft in legal terms 

Often, the crime of theft is confused with the crime of robbery in California, but they are two different concepts.

In our article “Difference between robbery and theft” we show you these differences that should be clearly understood to better understand the law.

expert lawyers in theft related crimes

Theft as well as burglary, robbery and fraud, are part of property crimes. These are some of the most common crimes in Los Angeles courts, along with drug crimes.

Petty theft is criminalized in California Penal Code sections 484 (a) PC and 488 PC. It can be classified as such if the event meets the criteria mentioned below:

  • The stolen property is worth $ 950 or less.
  • The stolen good is not a car or a firearm.
  • The property was not directly taken from another person (armed robbery or robbery).

In contrast, if the illegally taken property is worth more than $ 950, it is classified as “grand theft” (known in other states as grand larceny), according to PC 487. 

Elements of the indictment for petty theft

In order for the prosecutor to make a charge of petty theft he must prove that:  

  • The defendant seized another person’s property.
  • The property was taken by the accused without the owner’s consent.
  • The defendant intended to take over the property permanently.
  • The defendant took and transferred the property of others (regardless of the distance or the time that has kept it in his/her possession).

What qualifies as petty theft?  

Petty theft is the misappropriation of a property owned by another person. It is characterized by the low economic value of the stolen property. 

The charges of petty theft are generally based on evidence collected by police on the spot or through raids. Sometimes they arise during a search, a car search or searching through the defendant’s belongings.

Also through the testimonies of people who appear as eyewitnesses to these events.

Examples of what is petty theft can be found in actions such as:

  • Take a chocolate from a store and not pay for it.
  • Consume food inside a supermarket without paying its price.
  • Modify the sale price of an item by changing the label.
  • Taking a scooter or bicycle without permission.
  • Change the packaging of an item to modify its established price.
  • Extract objects from a house to which you have access (telephone, decoration, clock).
  • Eating in a restaurant and not paying the bill.
  • Steal items whose monetary value is less than $ 50.
  • Entering a clothing store trying on a garment and then hiding it to steal it.
tips to avoid theft

Types of theft crimes in California 

In addition to theft itself, there are other types of theft crimes that can also be classified as petty theft. Under the California Penal Code, they qualify as petty theft if the amount of the stolen property does not exceed $ 950.

The following theft modalities are included here:

Theft by false pretenses PC 532

Deceiving another person to charge you a fee through deception. For example, a fake doorman who charges a ticket to enter a bar, cinema or parking lot. The crime of misappropriation of the other person’s money qualifies as petty theft.

Theft by trick

The person who deceives another to temporarily cede his property with the subterfuge of rendering a service. For example, a fake watchmaker or technician offering to repair computers or mobile phones. 

The victim gives him the good and the false technician appropriates it. Theft is then committed by trick.

Theft by embezzlement (PC 503)

It is the fraudulent appropriation of money or goods, public or private, using your position (managers, administrators). It is committed by the people who have been entrusted with its administration. 

Possible defenses for the crime of petty theft

There are some defenses that Los Angeles theft crime attorneys can try. An adequate legal defense for PC 484 charges can result in a reduced sentence or dismissal of the case.

The most common defenses in these cases are the following:  

  • The property was not stolen because the accused acted under the consent of the owner,
  • The property was requested as a loan. The defendant did not intend to keep it permanently.
  • The accused believed that the property was his (claim of right).

Can you go to jail for a petty theft crime?

Yes. People accused of theft or “petty theft” can be punished with: 

  • Imprisonment for up to six months in a county jail or;
  • Payment of a fine of up to $ 1,000. 

The judge can substitute the prison sentence for probation if it qualifies as a misdemeanor. 

Migratory consequences of the crime of petty theft

The misdemeanor conviction can have unintended consequences for a legal or illegal immigrant in the U.S. Also, certain types of criminal convictions in California lead to deportation. 

Even, the judge can add to the sentence the inadmissibility in the United States of the accused. Among the “deportable crimes” or those that may be punished with inadmissibility we find:  

  • Serious crimes (homicide, domestic violence, human trafficking).
  • Crimes of moral turpitude.
  • Drug and other controlled substances offenses.
  • Offenses of possession and use of firearms.

When the judge declares that the accused has committed petty theft with the intention of committing fraud, it is considered a crime of moral depravity.

However, early intervention in the case of a good expert immigration lawyer can avoid this qualification. If you fear deportation, call one of our lawyers right now and request a free consultation. 

Is it possible to clean the criminal record?

how to clean a criminal record

Yes, is possible. After being charged and prosecuted for a misdemeanor offense, the person can request a background check. By cleaning the criminal record of the convicted person under 484 PC, he/she is released from all penalties. 

This is particularly important when the person wants to rehabilitate himself and erase his criminal record from public view. Thus neither their employers, academic centers, clubs, unions or any institution will have to find out about their past.   

California Penal Code PC 1203.4 allows the removal of a misdemeanor / felony if the applicant:

  • Successfully completed the crime probation period. 
  • Is not currently charged with a criminal offense, on probation, or serving a sentence for a criminal offense.

Does a petty theft conviction affect gun rights?

No. Penal Code 484 does not establish sanctions related to gun ownership for people accused of this crime.

However, there are other major and minor crimes in California that lead to the loss of these rights. As well as a ban on carrying firearms for 10 years.

Tips to avoid theft

  • Don’t invite strangers into your house.
  • Use locks on closets where you have valuables.
  • Keep the windows of your house closed.
  • Keep the doors of your house closed when you leave.
  • Do not leave valuables in the garden or other areas unattended.
  • Always have police number close at hand to report suspicious activity.
  • Securely close the vehicle doors.
  • Always try to park your car in safe places.
  • Install security cameras in your residence.

Why is Lluis Law your ally against theft or in your defense?

When we take a case, we accompany our clients at every stage of the process. 

Our theft lawyers at Lluis Law have been litigating for the past 50 years in different California courts. 

In addition, we combine our professional practice in the area of ​​criminal defense with immigration cases. We offer representation in Los Angeles immigration court to individuals charged with crimes with deportation potential.

Other areas in which we also offer our professional services include:

We know that many people wrongly accused of theft are innocent or made a mistake for some reason. But they are entitled to a second chance in their life.

Other times they are victims of malicious accusations through false accusations or evidence. We can help you clean up your records.

Now you know what theft is, if you are facing criminal charges for this or another crime, contact us, we can help you. We offer you a free consultation where we will answer all your questions.