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Attorney Overview of California Theft and Shoplifting Laws

Theft is a property related crime under California law. To prove theft, a prosecutor must prove that an accused intended to permanently take or withhold the property owner’s possession or right to the property. The prosecutor must prove the defendant had what the law calls specific intent to steal in order to establish the elements of the crime. Theft can take on many forms depending on the type of property taken. The offense most often involves personal property or money but can involve the value of labor or services. If you or someone you care for is facing criminal charges of any kind, contact Criminal Defense Attorney James Gregory for a free consultation.

California Law

The California Penal Code distinguishes between petty theft and grand theft, depending on the value of the property involved in the crime. Grand theft is a more serious offense than petty theft. Section 487 of the Penal Code establishes grand theft when the theft involves property, money, or labor valued above $950. If the amount is less than $950, the offense is classified as petty theft.

Many theft offenses involve persons accused of shoplifting. Shoplifting is a considered a theft offense that is typically prosecuted as a misdemeanor or sometimes as an infraction. See our FAQ page to learn answers to common criminal law questions in the Greater Los Angeles Courts.

Penalties and Sentences
The range of penalties and sentences for theft including shoplifting are determined based on the degree of the crime established by the prosecutor. Under California law, petty theft may be punished by a fine of up to $1,000 (plus what the court’s call penalty assessments which can increase the fine dramatically, often by as much as thousands of dollars) a term of imprisonment lasting up to six months, or both. For a petty theft of property valued below $50, a prosecutor has the discretion to charge the crime as a misdemeanor or infraction resulting in a fine of $250. However, prior criminal history may affect the prosecutor’s recommendations as well as the outcome of the case.

The Penal Code specifies punishment for grand theft as a term of imprisonment in county jail lasting up to one year or felony sentencing permitted by Section 1170(h) of the code. Felony sentencing may range from six months to three years, but prior criminal convictions can increase the severity of the sentence imposed by the state court or require imprisonment in state prison rather than in county jail. To obtain this type of sentence, the prosecutor must establish the circumstances of grand theft according to at least one of the provisions in the Penal Code.

Professional and Immigration Consequences of Theft Convictions
Theft convictions (including shoplifting) can and will impact employment and professional licensing. Non-citizen lawful permanent residents of the United States can be deported or excluded from the United States or denied re-entry to the United States from trips abroad including Canada and Mexico.

Consult With a Southern California Criminal Attorney
It is crucial to consult with a criminal defense attorney before appearing in court on any theft related matter. My name is James Gregory and I’m an experienced criminal attorney serving most of Southern California. If you are facing criminal charges for theft, I can help.Contact me today for a free consultation.

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