Grand Theft / Petty Theft

Grand and Petty Theft in SAN RAFAEL 

Descriptions and Defenses

In the California criminal legal system, different theft accusations are classified by different codes and carry different penalties and possible defenses. This page will contain important information you need to know if you're charged with either grand or petty theft and how a criminal defense attorney can help.

What is Grand and Petty Theft?

California laws distinguish most types of theft, and grand and petty theft have specific definitions in Penal Codes 486, 487-488, 490.2, and 491. They define petty theft as:

  • Theft where the defendant stole property worth $950 or less

The define grand theft as:

  • Theft where the defendant stole property worth more than $950

Furthermore, both types of theft require that certain things be proven by the prosecution to secure a conviction. These include:

  • The defendant must be proven to have intended to steal the property AND
  • It must be proven that the defendant intended to permanently deprive the original owner of the property AND
  • The defendant had to know that the property was owned by another person

There are many other legal distinctions that break down exactly what type of grand or petty theft occurred and that you may be charged with. These include:

  • Theft from a person if the property was taken from the clothing or body of another person, or in a container held by them
  • Firearm theft is automatically grand theft
  • Theft of an automobile or horse or any other transportation object is always grand theft if the property is worth more than $950

What Possible Penalties Exist?

Petty theft is almost always charged as a misdemeanor. Thus, a conviction carries the following possible penalties:

  • A fine of up to $1000 maximum
  • Time in county jail for up to six months

Grand theft, on the other hand, can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony. Misdemeanor convictions carry similar penalties as above, while felony convictions carry penalty options including:

  • Felony probation with up to one year in county jail
  • 16 months, two years or three years in county jail
  • Additional fines

Defenses to Charges of Grand and Petty Theft

Since the legal definition of theft is quite explicit, there are multiple defenses that a California criminal defense attorney can employ to protect you from a conviction.

No Knowledge of Property Owner

If you didn't know who owned the property in the first place, then you didn't technically commit theft since you were ignorant. This can be proven through circumstantial evidence and eyewitness testimony. In many cases, reasonable proof of ownership must be provided by the prosecution for this defense to fail.


Theft specifically requires that the defendant intend to take the property away from the original owner on a permanent or long-term basis. If you only intended to take property over the short term and in a reasonable context, you won't be convicted of this crime.

Why You Need a California Criminal Defense Attorney

There's no need to go through your grand or petty theft case alone. The law offices of Peter James Chambers are ready and waiting for your call, and we can offer a free consultation if you contact us today. Together, we can work to you return to your old life and overturn your charges with the right defense strategy.