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  • Writer's pictureBlair Goss

What Is Felony Theft in California?

Being charged with grand theft is not something to take lightly. While a prosecutor could turn the accusation into a misdemeanor, these cases often lead to a felony theft charge.

In general law, there are two categories of theft crimes:

  • Petty theft

  • Grand theft

Petty theft is often a misdemeanor. On the other hand, grand theft can go either way, usually resulting in a felony. California law has its own unique definitions of these crimes that differ from other states in the country. Contact Goss Law for more information on what petty theft in California is.

Understanding the main components of petty and grand theft can help defendants get a better sense of their case and what their next steps should be.

A trusted lawyer from Goss Law can expertly aid in a felony theft case and help win more justified sentences.

Continue reading to learn everything a felony theft defendant should know regarding the legal process, the possible penalties, and how a lawyer can provide significant assistance.

What Is Felony Grand Theft?

What Is Felony Grand Theft?

Felony theft is the same as grand theft. However, grand theft is not always a felony, as this offense is either a misdemeanor or a felony.

Ultimately, the prosecutor determines which classification the theft offense should be. Most of the time, grand theft charges are a felony.

No matter what, this type of crime is the stealing of another person's property with a significant monetary value. The specific value varies from state to state, but the California Penal Code 487 PC clarifies that grand theft is the stealing of property of more than $950.

While California law determines the value of grand theft charges to be more than $950, other states use different metrics. An example is Texas. Grand theft in this state is any robbery of property of more than $2,500.

A prosecutor must prove the following beyond reasonable doubt for those charged with grand theft:

  • The defendant had the intent to steal, AND

  • The stolen property is valued at more than $950, OR

  • The stolen item is a firearm, OR

  • The stolen property is a motor vehicle, OR

  • The defendant stole agricultural products of more than $250, OR

  • The defendant stole agricultural products of more than $250 from a research facility

Grand Theft versus Petty Theft

California offenses with allegedly stolen property totaling less than $950 would be considered petty theft.

A major difference is that petty theft is almost always a misdemeanor. Grand theft is often a felony. Still, there is a certain threshold when one becomes the other. Going over the $950 mark turns a simpler crime into a more severe one.

What are the Penalties for Felony Theft Crime?

Although someone who committed grand theft could receive a misdemeanor charge, this rarely happens. What's more, certain grand theft offenses immediately warrant a felony charge.

The following stolen items immediately identify the offense as a felony:

  • Firearm

  • Motor vehicle

Additionally, the threshold for grand and petty theft is lower for agricultural products. When it comes to items such as crops and fish, California law states that the crime becomes a felony when the property value is more than $250.

If a defendant is found guilty of felony grand theft as described in the California Penal Code, they face the following penalties:

  • A jail sentence in county jail or state prison of up to three or five years

  • Fines of up to $10,000

It is critical to note that a defendant's criminal record can make the penalties longer. If the property stolen has a value of more than $100,000, the prosecution could add another year or two to their sentence.

Petty theft charges or those of misdemeanor grand theft are less harsh. Someone who commits this crime could face the following:

  • Up to six months in county jail

  • Maximum fine of $1,000

As with grand theft with the felony penalty, a criminal history can contribute to a sentence enhancement.

How Does Felony Theft Get Carried Out?

Although the California Penal Code identifies all grand theft felony crimes as having the same characteristics, there are different ways someone can carry them out:

  • Larceny

  • False pretenses

  • Embezzlement


Theft by larceny is what many would consider the "standard" way of committing theft. It is the unlawful taking of someone else's personal property with the intent of stealing it.

False Pretenses

The California Penal Code 484 states that theft by false pretenses is when a transgressor fraudulently tricks the property owner to transfer possession. The guilty party uses misrepresentation intending to persuade the owner to ultimately gain the property.


The definition of embezzlement occurs under the Penal Code 484 as well. It is when the property owner entrusted the transgressor with their possession, and they used it to their own benefit or attempted to bereave them of their ownership.

Defenses Against Theft

Defenses Against Theft

There are several ways Sacramento theft defense attorneys can disprove accusations of felony theft. Some of these include proving:

  • Lack of criminal intent

  • The crime is a petty theft

  • The property is owned by the defendant

  • The owner consented to transfer ownership

  • The defendant was falsely accused

The first defense listed is proving the defendant lacked criminal intent. If there is no determination to steal the property, then there is no act of theft.

Next, an attorney can help prove the crime is petty theft. This would most likely mean proving the items stolen have a lesser value than originally conceived.

Another common defense is showing evidence that the defendant actually owns the property. There could be evidence the owner transferred possession legally. This then delves into the idea that the owner consented to transfer to the defendant.

Finally, a lawyer can help someone accused falsely of theft. Although this can be a complex situation, a skilled attorney can help gather sufficient evidence for justice.

Contact Goss Law

California grand theft resulting in felony charges is a serious situation. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help defendants build a strong argument to lighten the sentence or waive it completely. Goss Law can also answer questions like, "What happens if you get caught shoplifting in California?"

Contact Goss Law for a trusted and resourceful legal team that can assist in a felony theft case in Sacramento, California.


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