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The difference between petty and grand theft in California

The terms larceny and theft are used interchangeably to refer to a crime in which an individual takes possession of a piece of property that's not their own. It's a criminal offense that can happen with or without the victim's knowledge of it. Under the theft umbrella, an individual can blatantly steal a tangible item, take possession of a piece of real estate or money or allow services to be completed without paying for them.

It's even possible for an individual to initially voluntarily loan or rent a piece of property to someone, only to accuse an individual of theft after not returning it on time as agreed.

There are two different ways in which theft is classified in California as described in California Penal Code Section 486. As a general rule, an individual may be charged with grand theft if the property that they steal has a value in excess of $950. A person who steals items with a value less than that will generally be charged with petty theft.

A conviction on a petty theft charge carries with it a prospective jail sentence of up to six months as well as a fine of as much as $1,000. If the item that was stolen can be proven to have only had a value of $50 or less, then it's possible that you'll only be charged with a low level misdemeanor which carries no term of imprisonment and as little as a $250 fine.

In contrast, if you're convicted of grand theft, then you may be sentenced to anywhere between six months and three years in jail as described in Section 1170(h) of California Penal Code Section 487. In the cases of both petty and grand theft, having prior convictions on your record may impact what the prosecutor recommends as punishment.

As with any crime, there are numerous defenses that it may be possible to assert in responding to charges that have been brought against you. A Van Nuys misdemeanor defense attorney can advise you of what those different options are.

Source: FindLaw, "California theft/larceny law," accessed Sep. 15, 2017

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