Grand Theft Laws In California

When talking about theft laws in California, it’s important to distinguish between theft and grand theft.  To be specific, California law defines the crime of theft as the unlawful taking of someone else’s property.  In situations where the value of the item taken is $950.00 or higher, then the crime is characterized as grand theft under Penal Code Section 487.  What may start out as a simple shoplifting arrest, can result in a charge of grand theft, if the value is $950.00 or more.  It is also important to note that grand theft charges are “wobblers”, meaning that they may be filed as a misdemeanor or felony, depending upon the circumstances.  A conviction for grand theft can have devastating effects on a person’s professional and personal life but, with the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer, it may be possible to have the charges reduced or dismissed completely.

So what does the District Attorney have to prove in order to convict someone of grand theft?  He or she must prove the elements of the crime as follows:


  1.  You took property that was owned by someone else;
  2.  You did so without the permission of the person;
  3.  You took the property with the intention of depriving the owner of the property permanently or, you moved the property with the intent of depriving the owner of the property for a period of time.

Penalties and Punishments

If filed as a misdemeanor, and if ultimately convicted, the maximum possible sentence is up to one year in County jail.

If convicted of felony grand theft, the maximum possible sentence is 16 months, two years in prison or three years in prison.

There are defenses to grand theft that an aggressive criminal defense attorney can pursue.  Some of the more common defenses are:

  1.  It was not your intention to steal the item.  If this is the case, it is your attorney’s job to convince the District Attorney that you never intended to take the item and that it was a simple mistake.
  2. The item was actually your property and not that of another.  In other words, you believed that the item(s) actually belonged to you.  Even if they did not, the fact that you truly believed that the items were yours can be a defense to grand theft.
  3. You were given consent by the owner of the property to take it.  Again, it is the job of your defense attorney to present this defense to the District Attorney on your behalf.
  4. False accusation.  People are falsely accused all the time.  Sometimes by mistake and sometime on purpose as an act of revenge.  This common defense requires presenting to the District Attorney the background and reason why someone would falsely accuse you.

A good criminal defense attorney will know which, if any of these defenses best fits your situation and will know how to present it to the District Attorney to obtain the best results for their client.

There are other forms of grand theft.  As an example, embezzling money from an employer is grand theft within the meaning of Penal Code section 487.  Also, breaking into a home and stealing items can also result in a charge of grand theft.

If you or anyone you know has been charged with grand theft in Orange County, your first step should be to consult with a local Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer to find out what your options are and how to best protect yourself and your future.

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