Theft in California is divided into two categories: grand theft and petty theft. Petty theft is charged when the value of the money, goods or services taken is below $400 and was not taken from someone's person. That doesn't mean petty theft isn't serious, however. Petty theft is normally a misdemeanor charge, but when the defendant has a previous theft conviction, it can be charged as a felony. This is known as petty theft with a prior or felony petty theft. If you're facing a felony petty theft charge, you should get a Riverside County petty theft criminal defense attorney right away.
Petty theft encompasses all types of theft. In California, that includes all types of fraud; identity theft; forgery; shoplifting; and larceny. In ordinary misdemeanor cases, petty theft is penalized with up to six months in jail or a fine of up to $1,000. However, state law allows prosecutors to bring an infraction rather than a criminal misdemeanor charge in cases where the value of the goods stolen is less than $50 and the defendant had no prior convictions. This is most common in cases of shoplifting, especially involving minors. Not only does it keep a crime off the defendant's record, but it carries a maximum fine of $250.
In petty theft with a prior case, however, the sentence is up to a year in jail or up to three years in prison. Felony petty theft is also a "wobbler," which means prosecutors have the discretion to decide whether to charge it as a misdemeanor or felony. Felony theft charges can trigger the three-strikes law, resulting in extremely harsh sentences even for minor crimes. They can also create major problems finding employment after you've served your time and tried to move on. That's why our Los Angeles County theft criminal defense lawyers vigorously defend felony petty theft charges that could result in an unfairly harsh sentence or a "strike."
Petty theft is not a large or violent crime. In many cases, it's an opportunistic crime or a foolish mistake by an otherwise law-abiding person. In minors and young adults, it can be a way of testing boundaries or a cry for help. At HOWARD LAW, PC, we help clients like these avoid serious consequences for a one-time mistake. In many petty theft cases, we can argue for alternative sentencing options like community service or drug diversion programs. And in felony petty theft cases, we make it our top priority to drop felony charges down to misdemeanors to avoid triggering the three-strikes law -- and potential decades in prison for a small theft.
If you or a loved one is charged with petty theft, you need the help of an experienced defense attorney at Howard Law. For a confidential consultation, please send us a message online or call toll-free at 1-800-872-5925.