Theft is a prevalent crime in California. How a defendant is sentenced for a theft conviction depends on many factors. There are two main theft crimes in California: grand theft and petty theft. Each is sentenced differently.
Petty theft is typically charged as a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors are typically punishable by up to one year in a county jail, probation, and potentially a fine of up to $1,000 or a combination of all three.
Grand theft is a wobbler crime in California. It can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, each carrying its own range of sentences. Felonies can be punishable by one year or more in a state prison or the death penalty. Some sentences for nonviolent felonies can be served in county jails
Petty theft and grand theft are distinguished by the value of the property stolen. Typically, grand theft is defined as stealing property (or cash or labor) that is valued at more than $950. In some cases, the type of property can define how the offense is charged. For example, theft of automobiles or firearms is always charged as grand theft, regardless of the value. Theft of certain crops or seafood can be charged as grand theft if the property value exceeds $250. Theft of all other types of property valued under $950 is charged as petty theft. Theft of property valued less than $50 can be charged as shoplifting, which is a related but separate charge. This can be charged as an infraction or a misdemeanor on the prosecutor's discretion, but the prosecutor will typically charge it as a misdemeanor if you have any prior convictions.
Now that you know the difference between petty and grand theft, we can go over the specific factors that will influence the sentencing of such offenses. After deciding whether to charge the theft as a misdemeanor or a felony, the facts and circumstances of the offense and the defendant's prior criminal history will have the largest influence on the sentencing.
Petty theft, charged as a misdemeanor, is punishable by up to six months in a county jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or a combination of the two. You may also face up to three years of summary (i.e. informal) probation.
If grand theft is charged as a misdemeanor, it is punishable by up to one year in a county jail, a $1,000 fine, or a combination of the two. You will also face three years of summary probation.
If charged as a felony, grand theft carries a punishment of 16 months or two or three years in a county jail. When grand theft is charged as a felony, some additional factors will be considered before you are sentenced. You can receive a consecutive sentence—a sentence served after you serve your first one—if the property you steal had a large value. The value of the property you steal will influence not only how you are charged (i.e. petty or grand theft) but also how you are sentenced.
- If the value of the property were over $65,000, the court would impose a consecutive sentence of one year.
- If the value of the property were over $200,000, the court would impose a consecutive sentence of two years.
- If the value of the property were over $1,300,000, the court would impose a consecutive sentence of three years.
- If the value of the property were over $3,200,000, the court would impose a consecutive sentence of four years.
Your history of prior offenses will also influence your sentence for felony grand theft. For example, if you have a grand theft auto conviction, a second conviction will result in a sentence of two, three, or four years.
When it comes to grand theft, the prosecutor will consider the facts and circumstances of the case and your prior criminal history when deciding whether to charge you with a misdemeanor or a felony. The prosecuting attorney can use his or her discretion at this point, which is why it helps to have an attorney advocating on your behalf. A skilled attorney might be able to convince the prosecution to file the charge as a misdemeanor instead of a felony, so consult with an attorney if you are facing any type of theft charge.
If you are facing theft charges, call experienced Visalia area criminal defense attorney Christopher Martens today for expert counsel. At The Law Offices of Christopher Martens, we can help you build a strategic defense to fight your charges. Attorney Martens has practiced criminal defense for over ten years and knows how to defend your rights. 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.