Will I Go to Jail for Petty Theft in California?

Will I Go to Jail for Petty Theft in California?

Penal Code 488 is the California statute that defines petty theft, making it a criminal act to steal $950 or less of property or services. A violation of this statute is a misdemeanor punishable with a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to six months in county jail. However, a judge may allow a defendant to serve a probationary period instead of jail time.

If you have taken someone’s property worth less than $950 without their consent, intending to keep it permanently, you could end up facing jail time for petty theft in California. Read on to learn more about what constitutes petty theft under Penal Code 488 and how you can challenge this accusation.

What Constitutes Petty Theft in California?

While California Penal Code 484 describes what behavior constitutes theft in general, and PC 487 defines grand theft, PC 488 states plainly: “Theft in other cases is petty theft.”

For example, if you “borrowed” your next-door neighbor’s brand-new, $300 chainsaw with no plans to return it, you have committed the illegal act of petty theft. If you stand accused of petty theft, it is not a valid defense to claim that you eventually aimed to return the property you wrongfully took.

Note that when there are several charges of petty theft, each counts as a separate offense under the law. For example, someone who steals clothes from a friend’s home on multiple occasions did not do so in one ongoing act. It’s not legal to add the different items’ values to exceed $950.

Petty Theft vs. Grand Theft, Robbery and Burglary

In California, you have committed grand theft if you unlawfully take more than $950 of someone else’s property. A prosecutor can opt to charge grand theft as either a misdemeanor or a felony. As a misdemeanor, grand theft is punishable by up to a year in county jail. If charged with a grand theft penalty, you can expect to serve a jail sentence of 16 months, two years or three years.

Penal Code 211 is the California statute that defines the act of robbery. While robberies are like other forms of theft in that they involve stealing from someone else without their permission, the critical difference is that a robbery relies on the use of force or fear. Robberies are always a felony under California law, with specific penalties varying depending on whether the crime is a first- or second-degree felony.

A burglary, as described in California PC 459, is the act of breaking into any residential or commercial building, planning to steal items inside. It’s crucial to note that entering these structures with criminal intent is the illegal deed, even if the criminal did not successfully steal anything.

What to Do If You’re Facing Petty Theft Charges

If you have committed a petty theft in California, as defined by PC 488, having an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side can help you avoid penalties such as jail time and fines. As a top-rated law firm in California, the Law Office of Salvatore P. Ciulla provides reliable representation in court to people facing felonies and misdemeanors. Contact us today to schedule your complimentary consultation.


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