What Is the Difference Between Petty and Grand Theft?

There are a variety of theft crimes under the laws of the State of California. They range from relatively minor misdemeanor crimes to felony charges that can carry a lifetime of consequences. While all theft charges generally involve the unlawful taking of the property of another, the wide array of California theft charges can be confusing. That’s why we’re answering the question: what is the difference between petty theft and grand theft?

What Is Petty Theft?

Petty theft is the unlawful taking of property worth $950 or less without the consent of the owner. According to California Penal Code §§ 484 and 488, petty theft is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum jail sentence of six months as well as a fine of up to $1,000. If convicted, you could also face up to three years of probation.

What Is Grand Theft?

Alternatively, grand theft is the unlawful taking of the property of another worth more than $950. Grand theft is a “wobbler” under California law, meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony at the discretion of the prosecuting attorney. According to California Penal Code § 487, the maximum sentence you could face upon conviction depends on whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. Misdemeanor grand theft carries a maximum jail sentence of one year in county jail.

In the alternative, a felony conviction for grand theft will lead to a sentence of sixteen months, two years, or three years in a California prison. The decision to charge a misdemeanor or a felony in a grand theft case is at the discretion of the prosecutor; hiring a defense attorney with experience handling these types of cases in Sonoma County may go a long way in having the charges reduced to a misdemeanor or even dropped altogether.

What Is the Difference Between Petty and Grand Theft?

As you can see, the difference between petty and grand theft are slight. Considering the definitions of the two crimes above, the two major differences between petty theft and grand theft under California law are:

  • The value of the item stolen
  • The potential penalties you face upon conviction

Outside of those differences, the elements of the crime are the same. The theft can take a variety of forms including shoplifting or pick-pocketing. It makes no difference if the victim was present at the time of the theft; intentionally taking the property of another person without their consent is enough to be charged with theft regardless if the alleged victim was present or not.

There are collateral consequences to a theft conviction outside of the potential sentences described above. Depending on your immigration status, a theft conviction could have a major effect on your ability to obtain naturalization or citizenship. A theft crime, even petty theft, is considered a “crime of moral turpitude” and could have an effect on your immigration status. A criminal conviction can also hamper your ability to maintain employment or find suitable housing, among other considerations.

Santa Rosa Theft Attorney

If you have been arrested for petty or grand theft in Santa Rosa, California, contact the experienced defense attorneys with the Wilber Law Offices, P.C. to schedule your free consultation.

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