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

The criminal lawyers at Lluis Law in Los Angeles represent individuals 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 matters. Call now for a professional consultation with any of our attorneys.


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What Is Petty Theft In Legal Terms 

The crime of theft is often 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 clear to better understand the law.

expert lawyers in theft related crimes

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

Also known as “petty theft”, this crime is defined in California Penal Code sections 484 (a) PC and 488 PC. It can be qualified as such if the fact meets the criteria mentioned below:

  • Stolen property has a value of $950 or less.
  • Stolen property is not a car or a firearm.
  • Property was not taken directly from another person (armed robbery or robbery).

Instead, if the illegally taken property is worth more than $950, it qualifies as “grand theft,” under PC 487. 

Elements Of The Charge For Petty Theft

In order for the prosecutor to formulate an accusation for theft or petty theft, they must prove that:  

  • Defendant seized someone else’s property.
  • Property was taken by the defendant without the consent of the owner.
  • The accused took and moved someone else’s property (regardless of the distance or the time that they kept it in their possession).

If the prosecution’s accusation lacks the above evidence to support the accusation, the accused has the right to be released. Unless the judge or jury finds that such elements were sufficiently proven.

What Qualifies As Petty Theft?  

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

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

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

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

  • Take a chocolate from a store and not pay for it.
  • Consume food in 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 change its set price
  • Extract objects from a house to which you have access (telephone, ornament, clock).
  • Eat in a restaurant and not pay the bill.
  • Steal items whose monetary value is less than $50.
  • Go into a clothing store, try on a garment and then hide it to steal it.
tips to avoid theft

Types Of Theft Crime 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, the following forms of theft qualify as theft if the amount of property stolen does not exceed $950:

Theft By False Pretenses (532 PC)

Deceive another person to charge you a fee through false pretenses. For example, a false doorman who charges an entrance ticket to a bar, cinema or parking lot. The crime of misappropriation of another person’s money qualifies as petty theft.

Theft By Trick (484 PC)

The person who deceives another to give them their property temporarily with the subterfuge of providing a service. For example, a fake watchmaker or technician who offers to repair computers or mobile phones. 

The victim gives them the property and the false technician appropriates it. The theft is then committed by deception.

Theft By Embezzlement (503 PC)

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

crime of petty theft in california

Possible Defenses For The Crime Of Petty Theft

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

The most common defenses in these cases are the following:  

  • Property was not stolen because the accused acted with the consent of the owner.
  • Property was requested as a loan. The defendant did not intend to keep it permanently.
  • Defendant believed that the property was his (claim of law).
  • Allegation is false or the wrong person was identified.
  • Defendant was forced by another person to commit the theft. 

Can I Go To Jail For Petty Theft?

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

  • Imprisonment for up to six months in a county jail or;
  • Fine payment up to $1,000. 

The judge can substitute the prison sentence for probation if it is qualified as a misdemeanor. Also order the restitution of the stolen property or send the person to the diversion program, if they are first-time offenders.

What Immigration Consequences Does The Crime Of Petty Theft Have?

A petty theft conviction can have unintended consequences for a legal or illegal immigrant in the US. It all depends on the circumstances and criminal history of the defendant. 

Read everything you should know about the unlawful presence in the United States.

If the individuals are accused of the crime of theft for the first time, they will not have major legal consequences. On the other hand, if they already have previous convictions for this or another criminal offense, then he will fall under the California three strikes law.

In that case, the sentence will be higher and you will not be able to save yourself from jail. Also, certain types of criminal convictions in California lead to deportation. The judge can even add to the sentence the defendant’s inadmissibility in the United States.  

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

Crimes Leading To Deportation

Theft is not one of them, unless it is associated with other crimes. Among the deportable offenses, which are likely to be sanctioned with inadmissibility are:  

  • Serious crimes (homicide, domestic violence, human trafficking).
  • Crimes of moral turpitude.
  • Drug offenses and other controlled substances.
  • Crimes of possession, use and assault with a deadly weapon.

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

Is It Possible To Clean The Criminal Record?

how to clean a criminal record

It is indeed possible that after being charged and prosecuted for a petty theft crime, a person can request a expungement. By clearing their criminal records, individuals convicted under 484 PC are free from all sanctions. 

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

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

  • Successfully completed felony probation. 
  • You are not currently charged with a criminal offense, on parole, 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 the ownership of weapons for people accused of this crime.

However, there are other felonies and misdemeanors in California that do lead to the loss of these rights. As well as the ban on carrying firearms for 10 years.

Maybe you are interested in checking our blog to find out if you can you carry a concealed weapon in California.

What If The Defendant Is A Minor?

The case will likely go through the juvenile justice system and not be heard by a traditional criminal court. Criminal proceedings for minors are treated differently.

If the juvenile offender does not have a criminal record, the juvenile court may impose a lesser penalty. But if they have a history of misconduct and other crimes in their history, the justice will be more severe.

When the charges against the minor are serious, the case is brought before the ordinary criminal court.

Tips To Avoid Theft

  • Do not invite or let strangers into your home.
  • Use locks on cabinets where you have valuables.
  • Use locks on lockers.
  • Keep the doors and windows of your house closed when you go out or sleep.
  • Do not leave valuables in the garden or other unattended areas.
  • Always have police phones handy to report suspicious activity.
  • Lock vehicle doors and be sure to keep window panes up.
  • 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 Its Defense?

When we take on a case, we walk our clients through every stage of the process. 

Our Lluis Law theft attorneys have been litigating for the last 40 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 potentially deportable crimes.

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

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

Other times they are victims of malicious accusations through false accusations or evidence. We can help you clear your record.

Now you know what petty theft is, if you are facing criminal charges for this or any other crime, contact us, we can help you.


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