In California, theft crimes are criminal acts that involve taking another person's property or money without their permission. Being arrested and charged with a theft crime could be devastating. This is because a conviction will result in penalties in the form of a jail sentence and fines. The severity of the punishment you face for these crimes will significantly depend on the nature of the crime and the value of the property involved.

Several offenses are classified as theft crimes in California. Understanding various offenses and the penalties that accompany each is crucial if you have been charged with one. If you or your loved one is facing criminal charges in Pasadena, CA, for theft, it would be wise to contact a competent criminal defense attorney. At The Law Offices of Fountain & Hattersley, we will help you understand the nature of each crime and guide you through your charges to ensure the best outcome.

What are Theft Crimes?

California law defines theft as taking another person’s property without their permission and depriving them of the property’s enjoyment. If you commit a theft offense, your actions may be categorized under various types of theft crimes. If you face theft charges, the prosecutor only needs to prove all the elements of the specific crime without a reasonable doubt before you face a conviction.

Petty Theft vs. Grand theft

In California, theft crimes are charged as either grand theft or petty theft depending on the value of the property you stole. Under California Penal Code 488, petty theft is the unlawful taking of property worth $950 or less. When you face petty theft charges, the prosecutor must prove the following factors to obtain a conviction:

  • You took property belonging to another person. Sometimes, the victim does not have to be the owner for you to face a conviction. It is enough that an individual owned the property to make them a victim of your actions.
  • You took the property without permission. Lack of consent is the key factor that makes your actions an offense. Therefore the prosecutor needs to establish your lack of consent to acquire the property.
  • You intended to deprive the owner of the property value. Even when you intended to return the property after a given time, you can still be convicted for petty theft.
  • You moved the property. For a theft crime to be completed, the defendant must have carried the property away from the owner. Like other theft crimes, petty theft could be based on larceny, pretense, trick, or embezzlement.

Petty theft is a misdemeanor charged under CPC 488. If you are convicted for the offense, you will face a jail sentence of up to six months and fines not exceeding $1,000. Instead of jail time, a judge would award you informal probation. However, you need to follow all the set probation terms, failure to which probation the court could revoke your probation.

Section 487(a) of the California Penal Code defines grand theft as a theft crime involving money, property, or labor whose value exceeds $950. The theft of some items such as vehicles or firearms, or vehicles is a felony regardless of their value. Before you face a conviction for grand theft in California, the prosecutor must prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • You took away property that did not belong to you.
  • You moved the property away from the owner or the one in possession.
  • You did not have consent to take the property.
  • The property you took was worth 4950 or more.
  • You intended to deny the property owner of enjoyment of the item.

Theft of items valued at $950 or more is a felony whose conviction attracts three years prison sentence. If you are convicted for grand theft of a firearm, you may be required to pay up to $5,000 in fines. If you or your loved one faces criminal charges for grand theft, it would be wise to seek legal guidance and representation.

Types of Theft Crimes

Under California Penal Code 484, a wide range of offenses are covered under theft crimes. However, most of these crimes are centered on taking property belonging to another person to deprive them of its use. Theft offenses could be both felonies and misdemeanors, depending on the type of crime and value of the property involved. Common theft crimes you can be charged within California include


If you use force to deprive someone of the possession of a vehicle, you will face charges for carjacking under Penal Code 215. A prosecutor proves that you are guilty by establishing these elements;

  1. You took a car in the immediate presence of someone who had possession of the vehicle. For the crime of carjacking to occur, the victim should be inside the car or in the immediate possession. It is crucial to understand that possession will not necessarily need legal ownership of the vehicle.
  2. You acted against the victim's will. The prosecutor must prove that the alleged victim did not consent to you taking the vehicle.
  3. You used fear, force, or threats to take the vehicle. Force of fear could be physical or inform of threats. The victim does not need to be aware of your use of force.
  4. You acted with an intention to temporarily or permanently deprive the victim of the vehicle. Before you face a conviction under CPC 215, your intent to deprive the victim of the vehicle must be clear.

Carjacking is a felony, and the punishment for the offense could include felony probation, a prison sentence of up to nine years, and fines not exceeding $10,000. If you carry out a carjacking with multiple victims in the vehicle, you will face the above penalties for each victim.

Several sentence enhancements could apply in a carjacking case, including:

  1. Great bodily injury. If a victim suffered serious bodily injury as a result of your crime, your sentence could be increased by three to six years. The additional sentence after a Penal Code 215 conviction is served alongside the original sentence.
  2. Street gang enhancement. If you violated PC 215 while aiding gang activity, you would receive a gang enhancement under PC 186.22. A conviction attracts a fifteen years prison sentence in addition to the PC 215 penalties.
  3. Use of a gun. If you are convicted for a carjacking where a gun was used to perpetrate the crime, you will face additional penalties under PC 12022.53. Use of a gun increases your sentence by ten years, and firing the gun would cause a 20 years additional sentence. If you fired the gun and caused serious injury or death, you could be subjected to life imprisonment.


A conviction for carjacking is a strike under the three-strikes law. After a conviction, you must serve at least 85% of your sentence before you are eligible for parole. If you had another strike prior to the carjacking conviction, you might be sentenced to twice the term required. If you face carjacking charges in California, competent legal guidance will go a long way for you.


Under California criminal law, looting is taking advantage of a disaster or emergency situation to commit a crime of burglary or theft. A disaster is any situation that is beyond human control.The penalties you face for looting depend on the crime you committed. Looting by petty theft is a misdemeanor, while looting by grand theft or burglary is a wobbler. A misdemeanor attracts a jail sentence not exceeding six months and a fine of $1,000. If you face a felony conviction, you will face a prison sentence of up to nine years.


Under California Penal Code 459, burglary is referred to entering a commercial or residential structure with an intent to commit a felony or theft. Burglary could either be first or second degree, depending on the location it occurred. Burglary carried out in a residential area is charged as a first degree while that which occurs in other locations is second degree. Burglary is defined by these elements that a prosecutor needs to establish beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction:

  • You enter a building or locked vehicle. For this statue, entering a structure means that a part of your body was in the building or vehicle. Acts such as sneaking your hand through a window to steal something will result in burglary charges.
  • You enter the home, building or vehicle with an intention to commit a felony or theft. When establishing your guilt under PC 459, the prosecutor must establish your intent to commit a California felony or theft.

The penalties you face after a conviction for burglary differ depending on the degree of offense you committed the first-degree burglary is always charged as a felony whose punishment include:

  • A two to four years prison sentence
  • Felony probation. Felony probation is a sentence handed out in the place of a prison sentence. If you are sentenced to probation, the court will set specific conditions that you must obey. Violation of probation could result in reinstatement of the prison sentence.
  • Fines not exceeding ten thousand dollars
  • A strike under the three-strikes law

On the other hand, second-degree burglary could be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor depending on your criminal history and the specific factors of your case. The penalties for a felony second-degree burglary are:

  • A prison sentence of up to three years
  • Felony probation
  • A $10,000 fine

The potential punishment for a commercial misdemeanor burglary are:

  • A one-year jail sentence
  • Misdemeanor probation.
  • A fine not exceeding $10,000

Auto Burglary                                                     

You commit an auto burglary offense when you forcefully enter a vehicle intending to commit petty or grand theft. For this offense, a vehicle is defined as any device that could be propelled by human power or tracks. When proving your guilt for auto burglary, the prosecutor must prove that the vehicle was locked and you forced entry.

Your intentions to tamper with the vehicle or something inside the vehicle should be clear before you face a conviction. It is crucial to understand that you can be convicted even when you did not commit another crime after entering the vehicle.

Auto burglary is a wobbler. When charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punished by a one-year jail sentence. A felony conviction, on the other hand, attracts a jail sentence of up to three years.


You commit the crime of shoplifting when you enter an open business with an intention to take items whose value is less than $950. Before you face a conviction, the prosecutor must prove that:

  • You entered a commercial establishment.
  • You entered the business during normal working hours.
  • You entered the establishment intending to steal items worth less than $950

Shoplifting is a misdemeanor charged under CPC 459.5. A conviction for this offense is punishable by a jail sentence of up to six months or a fine of $1,000.

Misappropriation of Public Funds

California Penal Code 424 prohibits public money misuse by government officials or anyone with control over the funds. Misappropriation of public funds is similar to embezzlement except that embezzlement involves a misuse of private and public funds, while PC 424 addresses government funds misuse. There are several ways in which an individual could misuse public money:

  1. Use of public funds for personal gain. You can face charges under Penal Code 424 if you are an official of the state and you use funds entrusted to you for your use or another person. However, the prosecutor must prove you knew that you could not use the money in the manner you did.   
  2. Failing to transfer public funds could be criminal. If you are required to transfer government money, but you intentionally fail to do so, you can face public funds misappropriation charges. In such a case, the prosecutor must prove that you knew of the order to transfer the funds.
  3. Creating false accounts or altering accounts. Altering or deleting accounts with the intent to commit fraud is a form of public funds misappropriation.
  4.  Loaning public funds without authority. Loaning public money without authority is a form of misappropriation of public funds. To prove your guilt of this violation, the prosecutor must prove that you knew you were not authorized to conduct illegal loaning.

In California, misuse of public funds is a felony. A conviction for the offense is punishable by felony probation, $10,000 in fines, and a prison sentence of up to four years. A conviction under PC 424 has far-fetching consequences besides the legal punishment. You may be unable to work in a public agency again after a conviction for this offense.


Robbery is defined as taking personal property from another person in their presence and against their will through force or fear. The elements specific to robbery are:

  • You took property that did not belong to you.
  • The item was in another person’s possession. Possession of property does not necessarily mean the alleged victim was holding the item.
  • You took the item in the victim’s immediate presence. For you to be convicted for robbery, the property you took must have been within the other person’s physical control.
  • You used force or fear. California Pc 211 requires that physical force or fear of injury was used to carry out the crime. Fear of injury could be for the victim, their property, or family.

The penalties that accompany a robbery conviction depend on the degree of crime. A first-degree robbery occurs when the victim is a driver or passenger of a bus, cable car, or taxi. First-degree robbery is punishable by felony probation, a jail sentence of up to six years, or a $10,000 fine. Your prison sentence may increase to nine years if you commit the first-degree robbery in an inhabited structure.

Any other robbery that does not fit the definition of the first degree is considered a second-degree robbery. Second-degree robbery attracts a prison sentence not exceeding five years or $10,000 in fines.

Receiving Stolen Property

Under CPC 496, it is a crime to receive stolen property. You violate this state if you receive or buy a property that has been obtained through extortion or theft. Also, you need to know that the property you obtained was stolen. The property could be taken from the owner through pretense, trick, or embezzlement.

You are considered to own a property if you control it personally or through a third party. You do not need to touch the property for you to be convicted for possession of the stolen property.

When the property you received is worth less than $950, CPC 496 is generally a misdemeanor that is punishable by a one-year jail sentence. However, the crime will be treated as a wobbler if the property value is $950 or more or the defendant has a serious felony offense conviction history. Wobblers are charged as felonies or misdemeanors under the court’s discretion. A felony conviction for possessing stolen property prompts a prison sentence not exceeding three years.

In California, you cannot be convicted for both stealing property and possessing it. If you own stolen property and you are the one who took it from the owner, you can only face charges for a single crime. In addition to the legal penalties that accompany this offense, the alleged victim could file a civil lawsuit against you. In the civil suit, you may be required to pay three times the damage you caused.

Common Defenses to Theft Crimes

A conviction for a theft crime could attract severe legal consequences, especially when there is an aggravating factor. Fortunately, there are several ways that your attorney can defend you against theft charges:

  • Lack of intent

Each theft crime requires the defendant to have a specific reason to commit the crime. If you can prove that you did not have the required specific intent, you may be found not guilty for the facing charges.

  • Asportation

For your actions to be termed as theft, the property or money must be moved. Asportation requires that the goods be moved from the owner’s possession to that of the defendant. If you did not move the property you are accused of taking, your theft charges cannot stick.

  • Claim of Right

If you have a reasonable belief that you have the right to the property, you can use this argument as a defense to your case. Even when your belief was unreasonable and mistaken, you have a chance to fight theft charges.

  • Consent from the Owner

Before you face a conviction for a theft crime, the prosecutor must prove that you did not have consent to take the property or you used fear force or fraud to obtain consent. If you believe that the owner intended to pass ownership of the property to you, you may have your charges reduced or your case dismissed. When determining your fate in a theft case, the jury will consider all the facts known to you along with other pieces of evidence.

Fight Theft Crimes with Guidance from a Pasadena Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Theft is a serious crime, and it attracts severe legal penalties upon a conviction. Theft crimes vary from misdemeanors to felonies. If you have been charged with a theft crime in California, it is imperative to take the charges seriously, even when you are charged with a misdemeanor. A conviction for a theft crime will not only attract a prison sentence and fines but could have far and long-lasting negative effects on your life.

Fortunately, not all criminal arrests will result in a conviction. With guidance from a competent attorney, you can build a strong defense to help you avoid the harsh consequences that accompany theft crimes. If you are charged with a theft crime in Pasadena, CA, we invite you to contact us at The Law Offices of Fountain & Hattersley for legal guidance and representation. Call us today at 626-793-4111 and allow us to guide you through the case.