California law defines theft offenses as taking property that does not belong to you unlawfully and intentionally. Specifically, petty theft is under a large umbrella of theft offenses and is classified as the stealing of property valued at less than $950. Although the act is more commonly described as shoplifting, petty theft can encompass a broad range of crimes. Thefts committed by lying, false pretense, embezzlement, larceny, or theft by scamming are all forms of petty theft as long as the stolen property does not exceed $950. According to California Penal Code 484a – 488, petty theft is regarded as a misdemeanor and is punishable by a $1,000 fine and/or six months in a county jail.
Petty theft convictions may seem minor, but they have the potential to cause a ripple effect that may taint your record, keep you from gainful employment, and leave you susceptible to hefty fines. These consequences make the representation of a knowledgeable attorney invaluable. At Spolin Law, we can fight for your charges to be reduced or dismissed altogether.
If you are in need of representation for petty theft charges, contact Spolin Law at (310) 424-5816 to discuss your case.
Punishments for Petty Theft
As mentioned above, misdemeanor petty theft carries a possible $1,000 fine and/or six months of jail time. However, if the value of goods stolen amounts to $50 or less and you have no prior convictions, a skilled attorney may argue for the prosecutor to charge the offense as an infraction. As an infraction, a petty theft charge carries a fine of no more than $250.
If you have a previous conviction of petty theft and a an additional serious prior conviction, the charge could be classified as a “wobbler.” In this case, the prosecutor could charge the petty theft crime as a felony if he or she sees fit. Crimes that qualify a defendant for a wobbler are those of serious violence, sex offenses, or embezzlement from a dependent adult or adult over 65 years old
Additionally, if convicted, the judge may order you to engage in a petty theft diversion program. These programs can include required attendance in anti-theft classes, reimbursement of stolen goods to the property owner, community service hours, and probation.
Legal Defenses to Petty Theft
Like many other offenses, a conviction in a petty theft charge relies on the willful intention to commit the crime. Some legal defenses that may be used to fight petty theft charges include:
- Lack of intent – In some cases, you may not have intended to take property not belonging to you. Lack of intent is applicable in many shoplifting cases. Perhaps you were distracted or absent-minded while shopping and accidentally left the premises carrying items you did not pay for. Here, you could argue that you did not intentionally commit petty theft and had no criminal purpose. This will likely necessitate counsel from a petty theft lawyer, as evidence that you lacked intent can be hard to come by.
- You believed you had the owner’s consent to take something – If you had consent from the owner to take their property, you could use this as a defense in petty theft allegations. For example, if your boss gives you permission to take her TV but does not specify how long you can keep it. She can later raise petty theft allegations against you, but you could argue that you reasonably believed you had her consent to keep the TV.
- You thought the item in question belonged to you – Many times, people mistakenly take things that they reasonably think belong to them. Perhaps your best friend gave you his old bike that he did not use anymore, but did not put the transfer of ownership in writing. Months later, you two get into a serious fight and he demands the bike back. You refuse. In this case, if he alleges petty theft against you, you could argue that you had a good-faith belief that the bike belonged to you.
- False accusations – Being falsely accused of petty theft happens more often than one might think. Say an experienced shoplifter wants to cause a diversion to draw attention away from him while he makes off with stolen items. He sneaks merchandise into your bag so the security alarm will sound when you leave. As you are confusedly explaining yourself to the manager, he takes the price sticker off the items he intends to steal and slips away. Here, you could argue being falsely accused of petty theft.
Though all of these defenses could be used to combat petty theft charges, you may need an attorney to successfully prove your innocence. To learn more about defenses to petty theft allegations, call Spolin Law at (310) 424-5816.
Contact a Petty Theft Attorney
Charges of petty theft should not derail your life. The counsel of a top-notch attorney could mean the difference between reducing your charges to an infraction and accepting a felony conviction. For a free consultation with Spolin Law, reach out to us at (310) 424-5816 to receive support in fighting your petty theft charges.