Theft Crimes

If you have been charged with theft in Los Angeles, you need a skilled lawyer who can handle your case. With extensive knowledge of the criminal justice system in Los Angeles, The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney can represent you at all stages of the criminal defense proceedings. We work with our clients as a team and with your best interest at heart as a way to achieve the best possible results.         

What is Considered Theft in California?

There are many types of theft offenses under California Penal Code 484. Theft can be defined as taking another person's property without their consent or with the intent of depriving the owner of their possessions. It can take on different forms depending on the type of property stolen. Theft can involve money, real property, personal property or value of services, and includes both felony and misdemeanor charges of ranging seriousness.

Petty Theft

Under California Penal Code Sections 488 and 484a, petty theft is the illegal taking of property that is worth $950 or less. This definition revolves around elements of the crime that the prosecution team must prove before convicting you. These elements depend mainly on the type of theft that is believed to have occurred. It could be:

  • Theft by Larceny

  • Theft by False Pretense

  • Theft by Trick

  • Theft by Embezzlement

Penalties for Violating California 488 PC

Violating California 488 PC is a misdemeanor. It carries consequences such as informal probation, a fine of $1,000, and a six-month sentence in county jail.

Grand Theft (Penal Code 487 PC)

The definition of grand theft is similar to the definition of petty theft that was discussed earlier. The only difference is the value and type of stolen property.

Grand theft is the illegal taking of another person's property that is worth nine hundred and fifty dollars or more. However, this is not always the case. Before the passage of Proposition 47, you could be accused of Penal Code 487 PC for stealing a property less than $950 if the property that was stolen was an animal like horse or sheep, a firearm, an automobile or was stolen from the person of its owner.

Moreover, grand theft applies to theft of property of any value if you have a previous conviction of any of the offenses below on your record:

  1. Severe felony convictions such as rape, child molestation, and murder

  2. Sex offense that requires you to register as a sex offender

What are the Penalties for Violating Penal Code Section 487 PC?

  1. Wobbler Penalties

    In most cases, violation of grand theft law is a wobbler. The decision to charge as a felony or misdemeanor is based on criminal history and the circumstances of the case.

    If charged with a California misdemeanor, you will serve a one-year sentence in county jail. Felony charges carry penalties such as:

    1. Felony probation that comes along with a one-year sentence in jail or

    2. Sixteen months, two years or three years in county jail

  2. Grand Theft Firearm

    Grand theft firearm is a California felony that carries a state prison sentence for sixteen months, two years or three years. Additionally, it is a California strike crime under the Three Strikes Law.

Punishment Enhancements

Apart from the penalties outlined above, you can receive consecutive or additional jail time if the value of the asset you took is very high. Below are potential enhancements for the grand theft of valuable assets:

  • An extra one year for property worth more than $65,000

  • Additional two years for property worth more than $ 200,000

  • Additional three years for a property with a value above $1,300,000

  • Additional four years for a property with a value above $3,200,000


Another common theft crime in California is burglary. Under California Penal Code Section 459 PC, a burglary offense occurs when:

  1. You enter a commercial or residential building or room,

  2. To commit a theft or felony, and

  3. If any of the following statements is true:

    • The value of the asset stolen was above $950,

    • The structure you entered wasn't a commercial establishment, or

    • The building you entered was a commercial establishment, but you got inside the property outside of business hours.

It is important to note that you are guilty of burglary immediately you get into a building intending to commit theft or a felony. There isn't a requirement that you succeeded in committing the offense for you to be liable for burglary charges. 

There are two types of burglary, namely first-degree burglary (residential) and second-degree burglary (commercial). The first-degree burglary involves theft in residential buildings, whereas second-degree burglary has to do with commercial buildings.

For a better understanding of residential burglary, the term residence can be an inhabited home, an inhabited boat, a room in an inhabited house, an inhabited hotel room, or an inhabited floating house. Inhabited can be defined as a structure used as a dwelling. It doesn't mean that the person living there must be home when committing the crime.

Is Burglary Similar to Breaking and Entering?

Like mentioned earlier, under Penal Code 459 PC, you don't need to break into a building to be accused of burglary. You could break the burglary law by getting into an open business or entering a building through an unlocked window or door. 

However, the only exception to this law is auto-burglary. Auto-burglary can only be committed if the car is locked; hence, you need to break into it to take a property inside the vehicle or steal the car.

A defendant is considered to have entered a building, even if some part of their body or an object under their control penetrated an area in the structure.

Penalties for Committing Burglary

Burglary penalties depend on whether you have been charged with residential burglary or commercial burglary.

  1. Penalties for the First-degree Burglary

    Residential burglary is a felony. The consequences include felony probation, two, four, or six years in state prison, and a maximum fine of $10,000.

    Moreover, residential burglary is a strike under the Three Strikes Law.

  2. Second-degree Penalties

    Commercial burglary has less severe penalties than residential burglary. It is a wobbler. If you receive felony charges, you will face felony probation, two, four, or six years in state prison, and a maximum fine of $10,000. A misdemeanor conviction is punishable by informal probation, a maximum of one year sentence in county jail, and a maximum fine of $10,000.

Receiving Stolen Property

California Penal Code Section 496a PC is receiving stolen property. This offense can be best defined using three elements of the crime that the prosecution team must prove beyond any reasonable doubt. They include:

  1. The defendant received, bought, sold, helped in selling, concealed from the property owner, aided in withholding from the owner an asset that has been acquired through extortion or stealing,

  2. When the defendant did so, they knew the property had been acquired through extortion or stealing, and

  3. The defendant knew the asset was in their possession or presence.

Definition of Key Terms

  • To receive property

    Under Penal Code Section 496a PC, to receive is taking control or possession of a property. You do not need to have sole possession of the asset for the prosecutor to prove this element. This is because two or more people can possess the property at the same time.

    Also, you can possess the property without possessing it physically (constructive possession). All you need is to have control over the property.

  • Knew that the property had been acquired through extortion or was stolen

    You can't be convicted of burglary unless you knew the property was stolen. However, below are exemptions to this element:

    1. Receiving stolen property by business owners such as dealers in metals, junk or second materials and books, and

    2. Receiving several pieces of stolen property on a single occasion.

Penalties for Receiving Stolen Property

Violating California Penal Code 496a PC is a wobbler. It can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor depending mainly on the circumstances of the case and the accused criminal history.

If the value of the property is nine hundred and fifty dollars or less, you could be convicted of a misdemeanor. Potential penalties of this conviction include:

  • A maximum of one year in jail,

  • Summary probation, and

  • A maximum fine of $1,000.

If convicted of a felony, you risk facing the following penalties:

  • Formal probation,

  • A maximum fine of ten thousand dollars, and

  • Sixteen months, two years or three years sentence.

Moreover, for either a felony or a misdemeanor, you can also face a civil lawsuit filed by anyone hurt by the offense you committed. The victim could recover up to three times the total amount of damages they incurred, lawsuit costs, and lawyer's fees.

If you're not a US citizen, Penal Code 496a PC conviction is an offense involving moral turpitude. That means the conviction makes you inadmissible to the US. It also prevents you from becoming a lawful immigrant, applying for a green card and re-entering the US after leaving. You could also be deported in some cases.


Under Penal Code Section 495.5 PC, shoplifting is entering an open business with an intent to steal goods worth nine hundred and fifty dollars or less.

So what is the difference between California burglary law and shoplifting? Burglary is entering a commercial or residential structure or room intending to steal or commit a felony. If you carefully look at this definition, you will realize shoplifting is a form of burglary. As a matter of fact, shoplifting with burglary used to be charged as a felony until January 1, 2015, following the passing of Proposition 47.

What are the Penalties for Shoplifting?

In most cases, violation of shoplifting law is a misdemeanor. It is punishable by $1,000 in fine, summary probation, and a maximum of six months in jail.

Defendants with a previous conviction of any of the following crimes may be subjected to harsher felony penalties:

  • A sex offense that requires a defendant to register as a sex offender,

  • A sex offense committed by applying violence, force, retaliation or threat of bodily hurt,

  • A sex offense against a minor below 14 years of age,

  • Murder or attempted murder,

  • Solicitation to commit murder, and

  • Any other severe or violent felony that carries life imprisonment or death

A person who commits shoplifting with any of the above previous convictions could face penalties such as felony probation, a fine of $10,000 and sixteen months, two years or three years in jail.

Misappropriation of Lost Property

People lose precious things every single day through their fault. In most cases, the person who finds the lost property considers themselves lucky. Nonetheless, there are instances in which keeping the property could result in a crime.

To prove you violated Penal Code 485 PC, the prosecution team must prove the elements below beyond reasonable doubt:

  • You found the lost property under circumstances that would help you determine the property owner,

  • You appropriated the property for your use or for somebody else who is not the owner of the asset, and

  • You didn't make any effort to restore the lost property to its owner.

Penalties for Breaking California Penal Code 485 PC

If the value of the property appropriated is more than nine hundred and fifty dollars, the offense is considered a grand theft, which is considered a California wobbler.

If charged with a misdemeanor, you will pay a fine of $1,000 and serve up to a one year sentence in county jail.

If charged with a felony, you risk facing a maximum of three years in state prison and a fine of $10,000. You could also face professional discipline. For instance, a teacher with a felony conviction for the appropriation of a lost property could face revocation of teaching credentials.

If the value of the property in question is $950 or less, the crime is petty theft. Under the law, petty theft is considered a misdemeanor, and it carries $1,000 in fines and a six-month sentence in county jail.

Moreover, if the circumstances surrounding your case aren't serious, and you don't have a criminal history, you could be charged with an infraction. An infraction conviction carries up to $250 in fine and doesn't subject defendants to jail time.

Unlike other theft offenses, appropriation of lost property isn't a crime of moral turpitude. Consequently, immigrants or aliens are not subjected to removal or deportation.


Under California Penal Code 211 PC, robbery is the act of taking property from another person's person or presence against their will through the application of fear or force. This legal definition includes robberies committed by perpetrators in masks and wielding guns. A robbery could also be committed in other less obvious means like:

  • Breaking into a home while the homeowners are inside and then threatening them using physical harm before stealing from them,

  • Drugging a person and then stealing from them, or

  • Threatening the property owner with physical injury after being accused of petty theft or grand theft.

Penalties, Punishment and Sentencing Options

Robbery in California is a felony. The consequences depend on whether you committed a first-degree robbery or a second-degree robbery.

A robbery is considered a first-degree robbery if it was:

  • A robbery of a passenger or driver on a taxi, bus, streetcar,

  • A robbery in an inhabited building, or

  • A robbery on an individual who is using an ATM.

The first-degree robbery carries a sentence that ranges from three years to nine years in state prison. Second-degree robbery, on the contrary, subjects you to a sentence of two, three, or five years. 

Identify Theft (Penal Code Section 530.5 PC)

Identity theft is taking somebody else's identifying information and then using the information for illegal purposes without that person's consent. In other words, it is an unlawful use of personally identifying information to acquire goods, services, medical information, or credit in another person's name.

Identity theft is a wobbler. If charged with a misdemeanor, you will face penalties like a year sentence in county jail and a fine of $1,000. If you receive a felony charge, you will face a three-year jail term and a fine of $10,000.

If charged under federal identity theft law, you risk facing a maximum of thirty years in federal prison and increased fines.

Money Laundering

Money laundering is "cleaning dirty money." This is often the case with highly profitable criminal businesses trying to obscure or conceal the illegitimate origin of their money by channeling it through legal business ventures or banks.

California criminal law on the offense in question has two main parts:

  1. California Penal Code 186.10 PC which deals with money from different offenses, and

  2. California Health and Safety Code 11370.9 HS, which handles money earned from drug offenses.

Both types of money laundering are wobblers. Potential consequences for a misdemeanor charge include $1,000 in fines and a county jail time for one year. A felony charge, on the other hand, carries:

  • A maximum jail sentence for four years and

  • A fine of $250,000 or twice the total amount of money laundered (whichever is greater)


Under California Penal Code Section 503 PC, embezzlement is appropriating fraudulently a property that belongs to another person and has been entrusted to you.

Most people think embezzlement is a white-collar offense that is committed only by executives and high-powered financiers, and it involves much money.

However, under Penal Code Section 503 PC, embezzlement charges are brought against different types of people, relationships, and occupations. It also involves even a small amount of money and other property. It's also worth noting that you could be charged with embezzlement even when you didn't plan to keep the property and were only borrowing it for some time.

Perfect examples of embezzlement are:

  1. An accountant pulls huge sums of money out of the company's bank account and uses it to clear his debts

  2. A nanny is asked by his employer to deposit some cash in the bank. Instead, she shops for clothes.

What Penalties does Embezzlement Carry?

Violation of Penal Code 503 PC is punished either as petty theft or grand theft depending mainly on the type and value of property borrowed or stolen.

If the property is a vehicle, a firearm, or worth more than $950, then it is grand theft, which is a wobbler. While a misdemeanor grand theft embezzlement charge carries one year sentence in county jail, a felony charge leads to a maximum of three years in jail.

If the value of the property is below $950, the embezzlement is petty theft. It is charged as a misdemeanor which can lead to a six-month sentence in county jail.

An embezzlement conviction is not only confusing but can also cause life-altering consequences. That is why you should hire an experienced lawyer who will help you to know your rights and the most effective legal defenses. Common legal defenses to embezzlement include:

  • You did not have criminal intent,

  • You did not have criminal intent,

  • You were falsely accused.

Grand Theft Auto

Under California Penal Code 487 (d) (1) PC, grand theft auto is the deliberate taking away of a car that is owned by another person. There are many ways in which you can steal the vehicle. They include grand theft auto by larceny, using trick, embezzlement, and using a pretense.

You could be convicted of a felony or misdemeanor for violating grand theft auto law. In short, the offense is a wobbler, and the seriousness of the penalties depends on your criminal history and the facts of your case.

Normally, if charged with a felony, you will spend sixteen months, two years, or three years in jail and pay $10,000 in fines.

Following the passing of Proposition 47, a grand auto theft of a car worth less than nine hundred and fifty dollars is no longer a wobbler but a misdemeanor.

Punishment Enhancement for Expensive Vehicles

The law allows penalty enhancement for high-end vehicles as follows:

  • An additional one year sentence if the value of the stolen car is more than sixty-five thousand dollars and

  • Two additional years if the value of the stolen car is more than $200,000.

Find a Theft Crimes Attorney Near Me

If you are convicted of a theft crime, you could be haunted by the consequences of the offense for the rest of your life. Therefore, our goal at The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney is to help you possibly avoid the harsh sentence, fines, among other consequences. We know how important your future is, and that is why we are ready to formulate a strategy that protects your rights and your future. We provide a free initial consultation so that you can learn how our attorneys can help you. Contact our Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney today at 310-564-2605. Our competent criminal defense lawyers will be glad to speak with you.

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