Facing charges of petty theft is not uncommon, especially with the crime occurring through various forms. The offense of petty theft lies under the general crime of theft, as stipulated in the California Penal Code. Since the elements of the crimes differ, a charge of petty theft carries different penalties than other types of theft crime, depending on the circumstances of your case. Sometimes, you may face theft crime charges for an offense you did not intend to undertake, or under unclear circumstances that unfairly point you out as the culprit. To fight off the allegations of theft, you need a criminal defense services to present arguments and defenses in court in your favor.

We at the Law Offices of Jonathan Franklin have dealt with a wide range of petty theft cases, allowing us to handle different matters. Our vast experience in the criminal defense field has also enabled us to craft the best legal arguments, based on an in-depth analysis of all the case facts. Moreover, we are dedicated to building personal relationships with all our clients to ensure that you receive all the support and guidance you need throughout the litigation process.

The Legal Definition of Petty Theft

The California Penal Code has several provisions covering the overall topic of theft, for precise definitions of each type of theft. Under section 484, the code defines theft in general as taking another person's property and without seeking consent to receive the property.

Using the definition of crime in section 484, you can define petty theft as unlawfully taking someone else's property worth up to $950, as stated in section 488 of the Penal Code. The items stolen may be in any value, whether as tangible or as accessories that enable you to access the actual property. For example, if you take keys that open up a safe used to keep items worth $950 or less, you will still have committed the offense of petty theft.

When determining the value of the stolen items, there are several factors to consider for an objective valuation. Usually, the investigating officers should use the market price of the article to label an appropriate numerical value on it. A fair market price would be the highest cost of the item if it were for sale in an open market on the day it was stolen. The specifications are given on getting the valuation help to eradicate any cause of doubt or suspicion that you may have against the prosecution as they carry out their investigations.

Types of Actions That Amount to Petty Theft

The legal definition of petty theft given under section 488 of the Penal Code broadly states that the crime involves illegally taking another's property to deprive it permanently. However, there are many ways to commit the crime, and they are not limited to physically picking the stolen item and escaping with it. Several illegal actions that you may undertake may amount to petty theft. They are:

Embezzling Property

This form of petty theft manifests mainly under an employer-employee relationship, where the element of trust is present. Thus, when a person in a superior position entrusts you with taking care of and managing property, he/she does not expect you to use it for personal gains. As a result, if you engage in fraudulent activities aimed at profiting from the property entrusted to you, you could face petty theft charges.

 For example, if you are a cashier at a small grocery store, the owner of the store entrusts you in running the cash register and keeping records of the inventory. Therefore, when you decide to steal small amounts of cash per day or lie about the remaining stock to take some items, you commit the offense of petty theft.

Committing Larceny

Larceny is the typical act of picking an item and running off with it. In most cases dealing with petty theft, the action is the prevalent form of committing the crime, since most suspects act on impulse, or take advantage of the inattentive nature of the owner of the stolen item. The type of theft is common in retail stores where items are usually on display on shelves or racks. In such a scenario, you could be tempted to take off with the thing you desire to keep as long as the police do not trace you.

Petty Theft by False Pretenses

Using false information or pretending to convince the rightful owner of the property, you intend to steal amounts to petty theft. In these circumstances, you may approach someone and display a particular behavior that is meant to persuade the owner of the item to let you have it. Subsequently, you will walk away with the property without returning it to the owner.

Other times, you may use pretenses to lie to the rightful owner of the property you intend to steal, so that he/she gives you possession of the item under reliance on the information you provide. For example, if you listen in on a previous conversation where a buyer pays for an item but requests to come back for it later, you may then walk in and pretend to have been sent by the initial buyer to collect the article on his/her behalf. Moreover, more offenders provide false evidence like fake text messages to coordinate with their stories, promoting the innocent third party to hand over the property. In such an example, you will have engaged in fraudulent activities to commit petty theft as prescribed in section 532 of the Penal Code.

Primarily, theft by pretenses also includes any statements you make to an innocent, unknowing third party, knowing that they are not valid with an intention to gain access to the property. If you make a reckless statement to affirm something that you know is false, you will be liable to face accusations for petty theft by fraud or pretenses.

Petty Theft by Tricks

Tricking someone involves using deceit to get him/her to give you the property you intend to steal. Hence, when you are caught up in accusations that show you lied to obtain an item, you could be held guilty of petty theft. It is crucial to note that the property owner cannot typically act the way he/she does by giving you the property, and only does so because of the tricks you use on him/her. Therefore, you cannot raise the defense of consent in such an instance because the owner does not have an ultimate intention to give you access to the items you stole.

Elements of The Crime that the Prosecutor Must Prove

When charged with the offense of petty theft, you will be arraigned in court to answer the allegations before you. In a criminal case, the prosecutor represents the state by acting as the opposing party that seeks to prove your guilt. For the crime of petty theft, the prosecution must successfully prove several elements beyond any reasonable doubt before the presiding judge can issue his/her final verdict. The vital elements that a prosecutor must prove are:

  1. You Took Possession of the Stolen Property

The act of taking possession involves removing the property from someone else's control and bringing it within your reach and power. Therefore, the prosecution must state the actual type of theft you were involved in and proceed to demonstrate how you took possession of the property in question. For example, if you engaged in larceny, the prosecution must show that you promptly picked an item from the owner's reach and proceeded to escape with the item in your hands or inside a vehicle that you controlled.

Moreover, in showing that you took possession of the item, the prosecutor must prove that you denied the owner any access to it by withholding it beyond his/her reach. In this case, the prosecution has to show any further steps you took to prevent the property owner from accessing it by hiding it or by running or driving off before the owner can catch up to you.

  1. You Intended to Deprive the Owner of the Property Permanently

Proving that you had criminal intentions while taking part in petty theft is also essential for the prosecutor to win. To do so, he/she must demonstrate that you intended to keep the stolen property for as long as you can or until you got caught. Besides this, the prosecution must also show that you had set aside a use for the property. He/she does this to strengthen the evidence that proves your intention to deprive the owner of the item permanently. Therefore, if you steal something like jewelry pieces, the prosecution must show that you intended to use it as your property or sell it to a third party. The prosecutor will have demonstrated that you had no intention of returning the stolen items.

Despite the straightforward guidelines for proving this element, several questions concerning the difference between the owner and the person in possession of the property may throw the prosecutor's case off balance. However, based on judicial precedent, the person who suffered the theft does not have to be the property's legal owner, as long as he/she had the item/items when they were stolen.

  1. You Moved the Property

Here, all the prosecutor needs to show is that you displaced the property from its original position to a new one. Therefore, the distance you moved the capital is immaterial, as long as there was some physical interference as you tried to take possession of the stolen goods from the owner. As a result, even if you did not get very far with your theft, you may still be guilty of the crime because you moved the property and deprived the owner of it, even for a while.

  1. You Lacked Consent to Pick Property

The element of consent and it's absence is pivotal to your case because it determines whether you had any authority to take the property in question. Thus, in most cases, the prosecutor relies on statements from the rightful owner of the property to prove that you lacked consent to pick the goods you stole. Additionally, if there is any footage that shows you committing theft, it will be admissible in court and used as evidence against you. Such sources of evidence are persuasive because they provide straightforward evidential information to prove your criminal activities.

Defenses to the Crime of Petty Theft

Your criminal defense lawyer works to prepare the best defenses for your case, depending on the facts and circumstances. Presenting valid arguments goes a long way in ensuring that you face a fair trial, where the judge considers both parties before making a final determination. Some of the available defenses are:

The Property in Question was Borrowed

In some cases, the owners of the alleged stolen property may have lent it to you and forgot about it, only for them to report it as stolen or missing. If such is the case, you should provide your lawyer with all relevant information that acts as evidence to show that the owner lent the property to you. Documented proof is the most compelling way to build your defense. Even informal emails or text messages indicating that the owner gave the property will help prove that you did not steal the property, but only borrowed it.

Consent to Use the Property

Similarly, if the property owner allowed you to use it, he/she cannot revert and deny the issuance of consent. Your lawyer can present any evidence that shows the owner allowed you to use or access the property. For example, if there were any witnesses present when you sought permission to take the item from the owner, you can request them to testify for you. Also, any conversation through calls, texts, or emails is beneficial in proving that you sought consent to access the owner's property.

You Had a Claim of Right

A person would reserve the claim of right if he/she made a fair contribution to acquiring the property. For example, if you and your roommate contributed an equal amount to buy a television, you can raise the defense to validate your act of taking the property. However, the argument must be presented to justify reasonable actions like informing the other party that you will receive the property in advance. In other cases, a claim of right will explain your efforts if you have a valid reason to believe that you own the property. For example, if you had lost property and then rediscovered it later, you can take it and leave with it, as long as you can prove that it legally belongs to you. To do this, you must show receipts of purchase or certified titles of ownership.

Penalties for Petty Theft

In the state of California, petty theft attracts misdemeanor charges. If found guilty, you will face a fine of up to $1,000 or six months imprisonment in county jail or both.

Moreover, you may face additional immigration repercussions like possible deportation since petty theft is termed as moral turpitude.

Find a Criminal Attorney Near Me

Facing charges of petty theft may be detrimental to your record, attracting various consequences. You need a smart criminal lawyer to represent you in court and ensure that you do not face unfair convictions. At the Law Offices of Jonathan Franklin, we serve our Beverly Hills and Los Angeles County clients by providing legal advice and representation during trial. We strive to put your needs first and deliver favorable results. If you are currently facing petty theft charges, we will be happy to take on your case and provide professional services. Call us today at 310-273-9600.