What You Need to Know About Petty Theft Laws in California
Petty theft, often referred to as shoplifting, is one of the most common crimes committed in California. Heightened surveillance technology in stores has led to an increase in arrests for petty theft. In order to protect yourself, it is important to understand petty theft law. Here’s everything you need to know about petty theft laws in California.
California Penal Code 484 states that illegally taking property worth up to $950 is considered petty theft. The most common type of petty theft is theft by larceny, which occurs when a defendant physically steals someone else’s property.
Legal Definition of Petty Theft in California
California, there are different forms of petty theft, including the following:
Theft By Larceny
Theft by larceny is the most common type of petty theft. Under California Penal Code 484a, theft by larceny occurs when the defendant
- unlawfully took someone else’s property.
- took the owner’s property without his or her permission
- Moved someone else’s property, even for a short time, and kept it without the owner’s permission
Example of Theft By Larceny
Nathan is in a department store when he sees a pair of jeans worth $150. Nathan goes to the fitting room, wears the jeans over his shorts, and walks out with the purpose of stealing the jeans. Nathan can be charged with petty theft by larceny.
Theft By False Pretense
Under California Penal Code 532, theft by false pretense occurs when:
- The defendant Intentionally and knowingly lies to the property owner
- For the purpose of persuading them to give you the property AND
- The owner gives the defendant the property under the false pretenses
Example of Theft by False Pretense
Justin sells an iPhone to Max. Justin states that the iPhone is in perfect condition, and Max agrees to buy it for $900. Max receives the phone shipped to him, only to find out that the phone does not work at all. Max tries to get in touch with Justin to get his money back, but Justin no longer responds to his calls or messages. Justin can be charged with petty theft by false pretense.
False pretenses are made when an individual:
- Purposefully gives an individual false information
- Says something is true without certainly knowing if it is definitely true
- Does not provide critical information when he or she should have
- Makes false promises
Theft By Embezzlement
A form of “white collar crime”, theft by embezzlement occurs when:
- A property owner places trust in the defendant
- The defendant took advantage of the property owner’s trust for their own benefit
- The defendant took or used the property while depriving the owner of the property
Example of Theft By Embezzlement
Sarah, a small business’s trusted accountant, is in charge of the business’s bank accounts. Sarah is falling behind on her apartment rent payments. She decides to take $750 out of the company’s account and plans to return the funds as soon as she gets back on her feet.
How do I fight a petty theft charge?
Pride Legal recommends hiring a Petty Theft Lawyer to represent you when charged with petty theft. Having a lawyer especially attuned to your specific needs can be extremely useful. Statistics show that defendants who hire a lawyer are more likely to be acquitted of a crime, rather than being represented by a public defender.
Legal Defenses to Petty Theft
If you have been charged with petty theft, your lawyer may argue that
- You did not purposefully take the item
- The item actually belonged to you
- The person you took it from consented to you taking it
- You are a victim of mistaken identity
Although many other arguments can be made, these are the most common legal defenses to petty theft in California.
Contact Pride Legal
If you or a loved one has been accused of petty theft, we invite you to contact us at Pride Legal for legal counseling or any further questions. To protect your rights, hire someone who understands them.