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  • Writer's pictureBlair Goss

What Is Grand Theft in California?

When facing grand theft charges, defendants must understand what this offense means and the penalties it entails. However, not all thefts are the same. In California, there are two types of theft crime, which are determined based on the value of the property stolen:

The nature of these crimes is also determined by the property involved. Plus, they can be considered a misdemeanor or a felony. Therefore, there are many moving parts to this crime, and understanding the main components can leave defendants in a better place.


Continue reading to learn more about this type of theft, how it differs from petty theft, and how a trusted Sacramento theft defense lawyer from Goss Law can defend anyone who has committed grand theft.


What Is Petty Theft?

What Is Petty Theft?


Understanding petty theft offenses can aid in identifying what a grand theft is. Several features differ from grand theft, and specific factors can turn petty thefts into grander ones.


California petty theft is the unlawful taking of property with low monetary value. Each state has different price points of what theft offenses count as petty theft, but California law states that $950 is the barrier.


Any stolen property below the price barrier is considered petty theft. However, agricultural products have stricter boundaries. If the theft of these products totals more than $250, then the petty theft becomes grand theft.


Additionally, petty theft converts to the more severe form of theft offense if firearms are involved or if the theft involves vehicles, such as cars, motorcycles, and trucks - no matter the value of the property stolen.


What Is Grand Theft?


Grand theft can be either a misdemeanor or a felony based on the prosecutor. However, many situations may fall into this category. The California Penal Code 487 PC outlines that grand theft is the unlawful taking of property with an intent to steal.


Moreover, the stolen property has a monetary value exceeding $950 unless noted as an exception. Some of these properties include:

  • Money, labor, or property valued at $950

  • Money, labor, or property stolen by an employee over 12 months

  • Motor vehicle, a farm animal, or firearm - no matter the value

  • Agricultural products of more than $250

  • Agricultural and ocean products from a research operation of more than $250

There are several ways someone can carry out a California grand theft. The three primary forms of this offense are:

  • Grand larceny

  • Embezzlement

  • False pretenses

Larceny is the unlawful taking of someone else's property with the determination to steal it. Such examples of this would be shoplifting or stealing a motor vehicle (grand theft auto). Goss Law can consult on why California decriminalized shoplifting.


Embezzlement is the theft of property by someone trusted to handle or maintain the stolen items. This can develop further to occupy trick, which is when a transgressor deceives the property owner to transfer possession to them.


False pretenses are when a person tricks the owner of the property to transfer ownership, as well as possession, to the transgressor.


Therefore, there are many ways someone can commit grand theft, and there are many ways a case can be carried out. Those facing trial for grand theft must seek a reliable and experienced lawyer from Goss Law for a proper defense.


Typical Grand Theft Charges and Penalties


California grand theft is often referred to as a "wobbler" offense because it can be a misdemeanor or a felony violation. California Penal Code section 487 outlines the penalties. The outcome of a case is typically based on the value of the property, if any weapons were involved, and the defendant's criminal history.

Someone charged with grand theft as a misdemeanor may face a maximum of one year in county jail and $1,000 in fines.


A grand theft charge resulting in a felony conviction means the offender could face up to three years in California state prison. More jail time is added based on the value of the stolen items. An example is that an additional two years can tack onto the sentence if the value of the property exceeds $200,000.


Some actions warrant an automatic felony. Grand theft involving a firearm (known as grand theft firearm), motor vehicle theft (grand theft auto), or farm animals all lead to a felony sentence.


Additionally, a prior theft crime conviction can determine the penalties applied. While the prosecutor charges the offender, the judge has the final say.


Defending Grand Theft

Defending Grand Theft


Being charged with grand theft does not necessarily mean a guilty sentence. The prosecutor must prove several things beyond a reasonable doubt to warrant a grand theft conviction, such as the following:

  • Intent to steal, AND

  • Value of more than $950, OR

  • Acquisition of a firearm, OR

  • Acquisition of a motor vehicle, OR

  • Acquisition of agricultural products more than $250, OR

  • Acquisition of agricultural products from a research facility of more than $250

The nature of California Penal Code section 487 means there is much the prosecution must prove, leaving room for legal defenses. An experienced defense attorney can help reduce or waive the sentences for county jail or state prison, staying within the guidelines of the California Penal Code.


One of the more common legal defenses is the defendant genuinely thought the other person's property belonged to them. When this occurs, that does not necessarily mean they commit theft. However, this can be challenging to prove.


Fortunately, an experienced lawyer from Goss Law can enhance this argument for a sound defense.

Another common argument is the presence of consent. A theft offense does not occur when the owner confirms the defendant may use the property. Nevertheless, the defendant must act within the limitations of the consent.


Additionally, an accusation does not mean a person committed theft. Someone falsely accused can seek the help of legal defense attorneys to identify sufficient evidence they are innocent.


Hire an Experienced Lawyer from Goss Law


Each grand theft case is different. When defendants face grand theft charges, the outcome could vary depending on several factors.


The trusted legal team at Goss Law understands the ins and outs of California Penal Code section 487, which details grand theft.


Contact Goss Law Firm for support in a grand theft case.

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