Petty theft is a type of theft that involves goods worth less than $950. While this crime might not appear as severe as other forms of theft like grand theft, you might still face jail time and fines. You can seek legal services to help defend you if you are facing these charges because the prosecution might even push for higher fines or additional charges. If you or your loved one is facing theft charges in the Pasadena area, we invite you to get in touch with us at the Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm so that we can help defend you.

An Overview of Petty Theft Under California Law

You commit a theft when you take someone else's property with the intent of keeping it. Petty theft is punishable by California PC 484, which makes it illegal to steal anything worth no more than $950.

The courts can convict anyone for theft, even if the perpetrator intends to return the things stolen or has already taken them back upon discovery. If the defendant returns the items before the prosecutor presses charges, the courts will consider whether the period between taking the property and returning it was reasonable. If it's unreasonable, you would have succeeded in depriving the owner of the property's fundamental worth. 

The prosecutor will evaluate whether the crime satisfies the 4 petty theft elements. These are:

  • Taking control of another's property 
  • Without the owner's permission
  • You meant to deny the property owner of his or her property indefinitely
  • You moved or relocated the object and retained it for an indefinite period (the distance length or time taken doesn't matter)

You could be convicted of petty theft for a variety of reasons, including:


Embezzlement is a common offense perpetrated by personnel in both the public and private sectors. It entails the misappropriation of finances or property entrusted to a person by his or her owner or employer. You risk being charged with petty theft if you seize such items for personal benefit without your employer's knowledge or consent. If the amount misappropriated was no more than $950, the prosecutor would charge the defendant with petty theft. The prosecutor must establish that you:

  • Took the victim's possessions or funds
  • At the moment of the crime, he or she had a trusting relationship with the victim
  • You betrayed the victim's trust in you
  • You planned to deprive or deny the owner of their property's worth or enjoyment when you took it


This is the most popular type of California petty theft. It is defined as the act of stealing someone else's property and relocating it without their permission. The prosecutor must show that you meant to deny the owner of the item's worth when you took it and moved it.


A defendant will be convicted of theft by fraud or pretense under PC 532 if he or she:

  1. Actively deceives another individual by making false claims or misrepresenting facts
  2. Has the goal of obtaining the other person's possessions or money
  3. The victim is relying on the deception to hand over his or her belongings to the perpetrator

In addition to demonstrating the elements listed above, the prosecution must prove that:

  • You gave the victim misleading information or false statements that you were aware of
  • You declare something to be true with no belief or evidence that it's true
  • You don't provide the information you're expected to provide
  • You make commitments that you don't intend to keep

Theft through fraud occurs when a victim relinquishes ownership or custody of her/his property in part or whole due to deception. If the value of the property involved is no more than $950, you will be charged with petty theft.

Theft by Trickery

If a defendant misleads someone to take their possessions, he or she could be convicted of theft by trickery. This type of California petty theft involves elements like:

  • You took someone else's property
  • Since you used deception or fraud, the victim granted you custody of his or her property
  • You meant to retain the property or possessions in such a way that the property owner would no longer be able to enjoy its value for an extended period
  • You retained the item for any length of time
  • The owner of the property did not intend to grant you ownership

It can be difficult to comprehend the aspects of petty theft. You must be aware when taking someone else's property becomes a crime. Moving the item in question is one of the perplexing aspects. By moving an item, it implies that you've taken it from its owner's custody, giving you full control and transferring it to the smallest degree possible.

For instance, if you're at a colleague's place and take a wristwatch to look at it, you haven't violated the law. If, on the other hand, you took the wristwatch and stuffed it into your backpack, you've committed theft. By slipping the wristwatch into your backpack, you have taken it from the owner's possession and transferred it to some extent. The intention of depriving the owner of a property of its enjoyment or use is also a crucial element. Even if the defendant meant to surrender the stolen items, he or she could be convicted of petty theft. 

For instance, if a defendant took his or her colleague's wristwatch but intended to wear it during a wedding and then gave it back, he or she could be accused of petty theft. Meanwhile, if he or she borrows a colleague's coat and discovers a wristwatch in one of the pockets, the defendant cannot be accused of deriving him or her from the use of the wristwatch.

If the accused steals from several victims, the prosecution would prosecute him or her with multiple counts of petty theft. However, if the defendant steals multiple goods from the same victim, he or she would be charged with grand or petty theft, based on the value of the items in question.

Penalties for California Petty Theft

A petty theft offense is classified as a misdemeanor. You are likely to be sentenced to county jail time for no more than 6 months and hefty cash fines of no more than $1000. You could also be released on informal probation by the court. If the value of the stolen items does not surpass $50 and it's your first crime, you could be able to bargain for a reduction in the charges.

If it's your first crime, you could be eligible to participate in a pretrial diversion program. Once you meet the requirements, the courts will accept to withdraw the charges. These criteria include completion of community service, taking an anti-theft course, and compensating the victims for their losses.

Petty Theft with Prior Convictions

A petty theft offense is a less severe crime that's prosecuted as a misdemeanor. If a defendant has a history of prior convictions, the consequences could be more severe. Before charging the defendant with a past offense, the court first sentences him or her for a PC 484 offense. Priors that apply to petty theft include the following:

  • The offender has a history of petty theft, burglary, grand theft, robbery, carjacking, or acquiring stolen property convictions. For the crime, he or she must have served time in prison or jail
  • In addition to having a sentence for any of the aforementioned charges, you must also have either:
    • Infringed on elder abuse statutes by committing a theft offense
    • Have been found guilty of a sex crime that necessitates sex offender registration
    • A felony charge for a violent crime

Petty theft with a prior conviction is considered a wobbler crime and is punished depending on the accused's criminal background. A misdemeanor charge can result in up to a year in county jail, while a felony charge can result in up to 3 years in prison.

If a defendant is convicted of petty theft with a prior conviction, he or she risks facing deportation even though the offense is a misdemeanor. Therefore, if you are a permanent resident or an immigrant, make sure you speak with an attorney about the implications of the crime on your citizenship. On the other hand, if you have a past conviction for petty theft, you could contest both the past and the current charge. Defense lawyers prefer to request a bifurcated trial, in which two distinct trials are held. 

During the first trial, the courts will decide whether you're likely to face a conviction for the current petty theft offense. The court decides whether the past convictions count as petty theft prior to the second trial. You could use a variety of defenses to combat the present charges, including:

  • False allegations
  • A legitimate belief that you were the owner of the object in question
  • The owner or employer permitted you to keep the item
  • Lack of intent

Legal Defenses for Petty Theft

Most people believe that petty theft accusations are insignificant. However, a conviction record remains in your criminal background and it's accessible to the public. Fortunately, with a professional legal defense attorney, you could fight these allegations. Even if you're guilty, you could still have your history erased to avoid the consequences of your offense. The following are some of the legal defense strategies for petty theft that are acceptable: 

The Accused Had No Intention of Committing the Offense

When you're accused of petty theft, the prosecutor must show that you stole the property or items to deny the owner of the item's worth of enjoyment. For instance, if a defendant borrows someone's car but fails to give it back by the agreed-upon time and the vehicle's owner presses charges, the defendant could use forgetfulness to show that he or she didn't intend to retain the vehicle or deny the owner its usage. Instead, he/she forgot to return the car by accident.

If you're facing charges of theft by fraud or embezzlement, you can't justify that you lacked an intention by demonstrating that you planned to give back the property later. When you take another person's property without their consent or through deception, you satisfy the intent element for these charges. However, if you surrendered the property before the prosecutor brought charges, the conduct could be used as a mitigating aspect, resulting in reduced penalties.


The prosecutor could charge you with theft even though an officer influenced you to engage in a crime you wouldn't have even done otherwise. When a police official facilitates or feeds the accused with an idea of breaking the law so that she or he could charge the defendant, this is referred to as an "entrapment." Entrapment is normally described as a kind of misbehavior, and the facts gathered as a result of it can't be used to prosecute you. If you could demonstrate that you wouldn't have engaged in the crime if the law enforcement officer had not been inducted, the court could drop your charges.

A Sincere Belief That the Property Is Yours

If a defendant has a reason to believe that the stolen object is his/hers or that the accused has a legal right to own the property, he or she cannot be found guilty of a petty theft offense. When invoking this defense strategy, you should explain why you acknowledge you have a right to ownership of the item in question.

For instance, if a defendant took something that he or she thought he or she had inherited from his or her parents, the accused would be able to effectively demonstrate that he or she did not plan to steal the property. In some instances, you can apply this defense strategy even if the belief seems erroneous or illogical. In this scenario, you must demonstrate that your belief was genuine.

You cannot, for instance, allege that you mistakenly assumed a product at a store belonged to you. Let's pretend a colleague is visiting you. He or she arrives carrying a diamond necklace that they unintentionally drop. Because the necklace matches one in your collection, you keep it as yours while tidying up your living room. You can persuade the jury and the judge that the items' similarities led you to assume that the necklace was yours.

False Allegations

Anger, envy, and contempt all lead to false accusations. They are detrimental to your credibility and reputation. False allegations could result in you being convicted of a crime you didn't commit. Your attorney should be prepared to look into the individual who filed the allegations against you as well as any eyewitnesses to the crime.

False allegations can also emerge if the "alleged victim" is aware of what he or she is getting himself or herself into but turns against the accused when things do not go as planned. For instance, if you present a business plan to the accused and he or she agrees to invest in it, but you lose all the money, the "alleged victim" would sue you for deception to get his or her money back.


This is a viable defense strategy for demonstrating a lack of intention to commit theft. When using force, you must show that a third-party endangered you or someone else's life. You should demonstrate that the individual threatened to end your life or another individual's life or inflict serious physical harm if you did not execute the crime.

When you use this defense, the prosecutor has the burden of proving that you engaged voluntarily. If the prosecutors cannot demonstrate that you engaged in the act willingly, then your charges could be dismissed.

The Property Was Given to You by the Owner

Theft occurs when you take another person's property without their permission. However, if the victim gave you permission to take or use their belongings, then you can't be charged with theft.

Several of these legal defenses will result in your charges being dismissed or reduced. On the other hand, the prosecutor will do everything in its power to prosecute you for the crime. As soon as the arraignment is completed, you may be offered a plea deal in exchange for favorable sentencing.

How a Defense Lawyer Can Help You

When you represent yourself, you are more likely to settle for an unattractive alternative. Due to this, you should retain the services of an attorney to defend your case. If you can't afford an attorney, the court will appoint a public defender to represent you. For various reasons, it is critical to hire an attorney for your defense.

  • Attorneys that specialize in theft cases are knowledgeable about the many statutes that could be applied to prosecute the crime, such as sentence extensions and additional counts. As a result, the defense attorney could fight for the dismissal of further counts and use certain winning defenses to undermine the prosecution's argument
  • A theft lawyer is familiar with the court system and knows how to handle theft cases. You'll find it hard to cope with the complex legal jargon if you opt to defend yourself. You must be familiar with how the court works and how to defend yourself. Due to poor legal representation, you'll eventually squander resources and time and face harsher penalties. Choose a lawyer with courtroom expertise and a superior understanding of the law
  • A lawyer can offer you advice and different points of view on your situation. Theft lawyers are trained to spot common flaws in the prosecutor's case. They can also tell whether the prosecutor has a strong case. Such expertise, combined with their experience protecting people accused of theft, could offer you a distinct viewpoint that could help you avoid a sentence or secure alternative sentencing choices

When it comes to petty theft accusations, hiring a professional could make a big difference between being convicted and having your charges dismissed. As a result, hire someone who possesses a positive track record and has a reputation for successfully resolving theft allegations. Also, ensure that you can manage to pay your private attorney.

Related Offenses

The following are some of the crimes that could be tried in place of petty theft:

Grand Theft

This is defined as the illegal seizure of another individual's property that is valued at $950 or more. Grand theft emerges from other types of theft, like theft by deceit, embezzlement, fraud, and larceny. This type of crime is classified as a wobbler offense based on the circumstances of the crime and your past background. The penalties for grand theft include:

  • Serving time in jail for no more than one year if it's a misdemeanor charge
  • For a simple grand theft offense, it carries a sentence of no more than one year in jail, or sixteen months, 2 years, or 3 years in county jail
  • Grand theft with firearms carries a sentence of sixteen months to 3 years in prison

The court could also increase your sentence if the following conditions are met:

  • A criminal gang was linked to the crime
  • The stolen property was worth a lot of money, up to $65,000
  • Multiple counts of grand theft


Robbery is defined as taking someone's property without their permission and in their direct presence, using force. All California robbery offenses are classified as felonies. Robbery is classified as either first-degree or 2nd-degree robbery by the courts, based on the nature of the crime. You can be convicted of first-degree robbery if:

  1. The complainant is a passenger or driver in a hired vehicle, such as a trolley, taxi, or subway
  2. The robbery happens in inhabited residences or institutions
  3. You execute the crime as soon as the victim exits an ATM

The following are the consequences of first-degree robbery:

  • Serve a formal probation term
  • Pay a hefty cash fine of no more than $10,000
  • Three, 4, or 6 years in prison, with the possibility of an enhancement to 3, six, or 9 years if 2 or more individuals perpetrate the crime on an occupied property

The requirements for a 2nd-degree robbery are not similar to those for a first-degree robbery. It's also a felony that carries the following consequences:

  • Serving felony probation
  • State prison terms of two, three, or five years are available
  • Paying hefty cash fines of up to $10,000

You would face multiple charges of robbery for each complainant against whom you used force or instilled fear to acquire his or her possessions. Even if you instilled fear in two individuals but only got away with one of their belongings, you would still be convicted of multiple charges of robbery.

Find a Theft Crimes Defense Lawyer Near Me

Our attorneys at the Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm represent clients accused of petty theft and related charges in the Pasadena area. We devote our knowledge and experience to achieving the best results possible in every case. Call us at 626-628-0564 for a no-obligation consultation.