Grand Theft Charges in California
- Penal Code §487 -
Grand Theft – PC 487
California Penal Code section 487 (aka PC 487) makes it a crime to steal more than $950 of money, labor, real property, or personal property from another person or company. It is also considered grand theft to steal an automobile or firearm of any value.
In California, grand theft is a wobbler offense, which means the crime can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. While misdemeanor crimes are not the most serious offenses, all criminal charges should be taken seriously.
The following information is intended to provide a broad overview of the crime of grand theft. However, it is always recommended that someone charged with grand theft contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer at JPLaw, P.C. as soon as possible.
Hiring a criminal defense lawyer can ensure you protect your rights, relieve stress, and minimize consequences of a conviction.
1. What are the elements of grand theft?
Before someone can be convicted of a crime in California, the prosecutor–in Orange County the prosecutor is either a deputy district attorney or a city attorney–must prove all the essential components of the crime.
The essential components of a crime are referred to as the elements of the crime. In order for someone to be convicted of grand theft for violating PC 487, the prosecutor must prove all of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
The defendant to possession of property owned by someone else;
The defendant took the property without the owner’s consent;
When the defendant took the property, (s)he intended to permanently deprive the owner of the property;
The defendant moved the property, even a small distance; AND
The value of the property was greater than $950.
Police officers do not have unlimited authority to arrest people. Officers must comply with the rules governing arrests contained in the California Penal Code.
If even a single juror has a reasonable doubt as to whether the defendant completed one of the elements, then the defendant cannot be found guilty of grand theft.
2. What are the penalties for grand theft?
The penalties for committing grand theft in California in violation of PC 487 depend on the severity of the criminal charge. As previously mentioned, grand theft can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
A misdemeanor is considered a relatively minor criminal offense, while a felony is much more serious. A felony charge carries harsher penalties and can often prevent someone from working in certain job fields.
It is up to the prosecutor—the lawyer on behalf of the state—to determine whether to file grand theft as a misdemeanor or a felony. The prosecutor will often consider the person’s prior criminal record, the value of the property taken, and the person’s willingness to take responsibility for the crime in deciding the severity of the charge.
Penalties for misdemeanor grand theft –
A person found guilty of committing grand theft in violation of PC 487 that was charged as a misdemeanor offense is subject to the following punishment:
Imprisonment in the county jail for up to 1 year,
A fine of up to $5000, OR
Both that fine and imprisonment.
Penalties for felony grand theft –
A person convicted of grand theft for violating PC 487 that was charged as a felony is subject to the following punishment:
Imprisonment in the state prison for a period of 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years,
A fine of up to $5,000, OR
Both that fine and imprisonment.
Probation for grand theft –
Alternatively, a judge may elect to grant the defendant probation. Probation for a misdemeanor conviction of grand theft can usually last no longer than 1 year, while probation for a felony conviction can last no longer than 2 years.
The terms of probation for someone conviction of PC 487 ordinarily include some combination of the following:
Payment of a fine
Completion of a theft class
Community service or community labor
An order to pay restitution
An order to stay away from the store or company where the theft was committed
An order that the defendant refrain from committing any new law violations
An order to serve a specified jail sentence in the county jail
The court will ordinarily grant probation, unless the defendant has a history of similar offenses, but the defendant will be ordered to perform community service.
3. What is the difference between petty theft and grand theft?
Petty theft and grand theft are similar in that the underlying conduct of both crimes is the unlawful taking of property that belongs to someone else. The difference between the criminal charges lies in the value of the property that was taken.
Grand theft ordinarily requires that the person unlawfully take property that is valued at over $950. Conversely, the property taken during a petty theft can be of any value, no matter how slight. Therefore, a person who steals a $1.00 candy bar can be charged with petty theft, but not grand theft.
Since the harm that results from petty theft is considered less than that of grand theft, the penalties for petty theft are also more lenient than those of grand theft. For more information on petty theft, visit the dedicated Petty Theft page or contact an Orange County criminal defense lawyer at the number above.
4. What are some common defenses to grand theft charges?
There are many defenses an experienced criminal defense lawyer can use to defend someone accused of grand theft. Consider the following defenses:
Lack of Criminal Intent –
The crime of grand theft is a specific intent crime. A specific intent crime requires proof that the person not only intentionally committed the prohibited conduct, but also that the person acted with a specific intent.
In other words, the prosecutor has to prove that the person took the property AND that when doing so, intended to permanently deprive the person of the property. This defense is particularly useful when the defendant only intended to borrow the property.
For example, consider two neighbors, Neighbor A who has a nice new lawnmower and Neighbor B who has an old push mower. If Neighbor B sees Neighbor A’s new lawnmower and decides to take the mower and keep it, then he may be guilty of grand theft.
If, on the other hand, Neighbor B sees that Neighbor A mistakenly left the mower outside and decided to store it in his garage until Neighbor A returned from vacation, then Neighbor B would not be guilty of grand theft.
Mistake of Fact –
A mistake of fact defense is similar to the defense above in that a person’s mistake may negate the mental state required to prove the crime of grand theft. As indicated above, the defendant must act with the specific intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property. Therefore, a person who mistakenly believes the property belongs to him or her, does not have requisite intent to complete a grand theft.
Consider someone picking up their luggage from an airport carrousel. Image the person picks up the wrong luggage believing it to be his. That person would not be guilty of grand theft because he was under the mistaken belief that the property belonged to him. On the other hand, if the person intended to retrieve the wrong luggage, then that person may be guilty of grand theft.
Rightful Claim of Ownership –
Another useful defense to grand theft is a rightful claim of ownership. Grand theft requires that the perpetrator intentionally take the property of ANOTHER person. Therefore, a person who has a rightful claim to the property would not be guilty of grand theft.
For example, consider the hypothetical above involving the two neighbors. If Neighbor A finds out that Neighbor B has stored the new lawnmower in his garage and decides to retrieve the mower, Neighbor A would not be guilty of grand theft because he is the rightful owner of the lawnmower.
It’s important to remember that every case is different. If you or someone you love has been charged with violating PC 487 for allegedly committing grand theft, it is important you contact an experienced and knowledgeable theft crimes defense lawyer at JPLaw, P.C. as soon as possible.
5. Can A Conviction for Grand Theft Be Expunged?
Yes, a person found guilty or who pleads guilty to grand theft may be eligible to have the conviction expunged from their criminal record. In California, an expungement is the process of petitioning the court to permit a defendant to withdraw their plea of guilty and have the case dismissed.
An expungement is a great way to clean up a past criminal record. Expunging a conviction from your record allows you to legally say that you have never been convicted of a crime. This is particularly beneficial when applying for housing or employment.
That said, not everyone is eligible to have their conviction expunged. For more information on the expungement process in California, please visit the dedicated Expungements page.
Contact An Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer
John-Patrick Mullen-Lujan is a trusted Orange County criminal defense lawyer that prides himself on his ability to communicate with clients as he helps them navigate our complex criminal justice system.
Attorney Mullen-Lujan was named one of the Best Criminal Defense Lawyers in Orange and Newport Beach. Hire an attorney you can trust and who can provide the zealous advocacy you need.
Contact JPLaw, P.C. to schedule your FREE consultation with local Orange County criminal defense lawyer John-Patrick Mullen-Lujan. Together you will review your case and develop a legal defense strategy tailored just for you!