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What is the Difference Between Grand Theft and Petty Theft?

Posted by Christopher Martens | Jul 09, 2015 | 0 Comments

Theft is one of the oldest criminal acts in the world. For as long as human history, we have been taking things from other people that don't belong to us. Needless to say, it is a common criminal charge in California, especially in high-density areas. Theft is also a very broad criminal category. It covers a wide range of acts, including grand theft auto, identify theft and fraud, just to name a few. Theft as a criminal charge is further broken down into two "degrees" or forms of theft: grand theft and petty theft. You have probably heard of grand theft auto. While this may lead some to believe that grand theft is stealing relatively large items or expensive items, the degree of theft is determined by the value of the property stolen and what it actually was. In general, to be ruled as grand theft, the value of the property stolen must exceed $950. There are many exceptions to this however that makes the theft of things of lesser value still grand theft. Certain items or property are more heavily protected than others, meaning stealing them would still be seen as grand theft, even if the value of them were below $950. In California, certain agricultural products, like avocados, citrus fruits and nuts, belong in this protected class. For these, the value of the stolen property need only be above $250 to be considered grand theft. Seafood and sea life as well fall in this category; stealing $250 worth of these products is grand theft, if taken from a commercial or research establishment which has ownership of those things. Keep in mind theft by definition is appropriating property from someone else meaning the thing needs to be owned to be stolen. Thus, fishing for personal use or gathering of kelp found on a beach is not considered theft per se; however there may be other sanctions for acquiring these items if they are protected in some way. Stealing an automobile or a firearm is always grand theft, regardless of the value of the property. Similarly, stealing certain animals used for work or consumption, like horses, cattle or pigs, is considered grand theft no matter the worth. However most items, that do not fall under one of these protected categories, will be held to the $950 rule meaning the difference between a grand theft and a petty theft charge is a matter of valuing the property stolen. Unfortunately, this is a somewhat arbitrary amount. How much an item or piece of property is worth is, in general, a matter of opinion if it does not carry an inherent value, like with cash or other forms of consideration. Both degrees of theft, grand and petty, are serious criminal charges however those charged with grand theft face harsher consequences. In general, grand theft can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony and will result in up to one year in jail, up to three years for theft of firearms. Theft of livestock will result in a fine of up to $5,000 and/or one year in jail. Petty theft, as opposed to grand theft, is generally determined as the theft of property valued at less than $950. Petty theft is generally punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Some cases of petty theft, when the value of the property acquired does not exceed $50, can be charged with as a simply infraction and an associated fine of up to $250, however this is up to the discretion of the court and dependent on your prior criminal history. All other cases of petty theft are charged as a misdemeanor. In both grand and petty theft cases, the prosecution must prove that you knowingly appropriate the property of another. You cannot be charged with theft for taking back something that was taken from you or for accidentally or otherwise unintentionally acquired the property. Similarly, if the owner consented to you taking the item but were just not there at the time of arrest to attest to that, you cannot be charged with theft. In light of these components the prosecution must prove, it is possible for people to be falsely accused of theft. If you are in this scenario, contact a criminal defense attorney right away to discuss possible defense options. Similarly, if you are facing grand theft charges and feel that the value of the property stolen does not exceed $950 and does not fall into one of the protected categories of items, contact an attorney to see how you can challenge the charge in court. Grand theft, as well as petty theft, is a serious charge and worth fighting to keep off your record.

Do your or a loved one have questions about theft charges and are in the Tulare, Kings or Fresno Counties area? Call experienced Visalia area criminal defense attorney Christopher Martens today for expert counsel on theft charges. At The Law Offices of Christopher Martens, we can listen to your story and help you prepare a strategic defense to ensure you the best possible outcome for your case. Contact our Visalia or Hanford offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] to discuss a possible plan of action for your case.

About the Author

Christopher Martens

Bio Visalia and Bakersfield criminal defense attorney who has dedicated his life to helping those who have been accused of crimes or injured due to the negligence of others.


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