In Los Angeles, petty theft is a catch-all term for the theft of relatively low-value property. Even though the crime is minor, it is a misdemeanor criminal offense and it carries jail time—up to 6 months. If you have been arrested for petty theft, or if someone in your family has, you need to fight the charge. You should talk to a Los Angeles petty theft lawyer.
The Simmrin Law Group is here for you. We have made it our mission to always represent the accused. When you come to us, we will listen to you, we will take your side and we will fight for you. We have the legal knowledge and experience to give you the best defense possible—and we know how to win. Let us give you a free consultation to get started. Fill out the form to the right or call us at 310-997-4688 and get your free consultation today.
What is petty theft?
Petty theft is defined by two section of state law, California Penal Code Sections 484 and 488. In general, it means stealing anything that is worth $950 or less. And while, there is no such thing as a “good” crime to be charged with, petty theft is preferable to other, more serious theft crimes, because the penalties are not as severe.
However, there are a variety of restrictions and exceptions on what counts as petty theft. Specifically, the theft has to meet three standards:
You stole something that’s within the $950 limit,
You didn’t take it directly from the owner—in other words, you didn’t mug or rob them, and
The stolen property doesn’t fit any of the exceptions below.
The exceptions are:
Agricultural products (like fruit) or fish/shellfish valued at more than $250
If the stolen goods fit one of these categories, then the $950 limit doesn’t apply, and you can be charged with something more serious than petty theft.
What are examples of petty theft vs. more serious theft?
Here are some simple examples that show the difference:
A woman is sitting in a coffee shop working on her laptop. She gets up to use the bathroom, leaving the laptop on her table. While she’s away, someone grabs the laptop and leaves with it. The laptop is a couple years old and only valued at $500, and the woman was not mugged, so it’s petty theft.
A woman is standing in line at the coffee shop. Her backpack is open, and her laptop is visible inside of it. Someone comes up to her, grabs the laptop out of the bag and runs. The laptop was taken directly off her person, so the crime cannot be charged as petty theft. It will be charged as a more serious offense instead.
What if I was told I was charged with a different crime, like larceny?
There are several different offenses that all count as petty theft, meaning that the basic penalties are the same for all of them—even if they are called different things. For example, any of these count as petty theft:
Theft by trick. This means you deceived the person into giving you the property.
Theft by fraud. This also involves deceiving or tricking someone, but it also involves getting the title or ownership of the stolen property.
Larceny. This basically means just picking up the property and walking off with it, with the intention of keeping it long-term.
Shoplifting. This is actually charged under the larceny law, but is called shoplifting if you stole from a store. Some cases of shoplifting will be charged under different laws, however.
Embezzlement. This is when the owner of the property let you have or use it because they trusted you, but you took it or used it for your own benefit. It often involves an employer, but can involve anyone who entrusts you with something of value.
Is petty theft ever a felony in Los Angeles
No, it’s a misdemeanor. However, if the value of the property goes over $950, or if you took it off the person directly—or if it meets any of the other exceptions above—you will be charged with a different crime, usually grand theft. Grand theft is much more serious and it can be a felony in many cases.
What are the penalties for petty theft in Los Angeles?
The penalties for petty theft include:
Up to 6 months in jail
A fine of up to $1,000
You will have to serve probation after your jail time
What are the best defenses for a petty theft charge?
The strongest defenses that a capable criminal defense lawyer may use include:
You thought it was yours. Sometimes petty “theft” is an honest mistake. In this situation, you should not be convicted.
You did not intend to steal it. Picking something up to use it, or look at it, does not count as theft. And even taking something to use it is not theft if you planned to put it back.
You had the owner’s permission. If you had permission then you are not guilty, period.
Wrongly accused. This happens for many reasons. It could be that you were wrongly arrested and someone else was the thief. It could be that you only had stolen property on you because you bought it from someone, not knowing it was stolen. Or it could even have been planted on you—a tactic that real thieves use to throw suspicion off of themselves.
Illegal search and seizure. If police broke any rules in searching you, you could win your case.
It is also possible for a skilled lawyer to challenge the evidence against you, whether that includes statements you made to police or physical evidence. If the evidence is suppressed it could mean having the charges dropped.
Unfortunately, none of these defenses work unless you know how to build a solid case. You need to talk to a lawyer.
Talk to a Los Angeles Petty Theft Lawyer for Free
You need someone who understands the legal system and how to win cases. At the Simmrin Law Group, we can help. We will give you a FREE consultation and help you start building your defense. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Fill out the form to the right or call us at 310-997-4688 and get your free consultation today.