California “Petty Theft” Laws | Penal Code 484(a) PC

In California, petty theft is charged under penal code 484(a) pc[1] making it a crime to take and carry away the property of another valued at $950 or under with the intent to permanently deprive. If the property amount exceeds $950, then the appropriate charge is ordinarily grand theft. For offenses occurring in a commercial establishment – e.g., clothing store, the prosecutor usually charges someone with shoplifting or commercial burglary.

In order to prove someone is guilty of petty theft under PC 484(a), the prosecutor has the burden of proving each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. You took possession of property owned by someone else;
  2. You took property without the owner’s consent;
  3. You harbored the intent to permanently deprive or removed the property for an extended period of time depriving them of a major portion of enjoyment.[2]

Legal Defenses to PC 484(a)

Petty theft is characterized as a specific intent crime making your state of mind at the time of the act crucial. If you actually believed you had a claim of right to the property, even if your belief was mistaken or unreasonable, then such as a belief is a defense. Additionally, you could have lacked the requisite intent by acting inadvertently or by mistake. For instance, you placed an item in your bag and forgot to pay for it at the checkout counter. Furthermore, taking the item(s) with the owner’s permission would negate that the act constitutes an unlawful taking. Text message exchanges, e-mails, and social media messages are all pertinent evidence that must be examined to determine the scope or full consent by the true owner.

Punishment & Sentence

Penal Code 484(a) is punishable in the county jail for up to six (6) months and a maximum $1,000 fine. The consequences of a conviction can have a lasting impact on a person’s life. Since the offense involves moral turpitude conduct, it may negatively impact your immigration status, carry consequences to those seeking or maintaining a professional license, and even lose prospective employment opportunities decades after the offense. When evaluating the specific offense characteristics conjointly with a defendant’s personal background, it may be feasible for a diversion disposition that can avoid the presence of a conviction on your record.

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If you have been arrested, cited, or are under investigation for petty theft under PC 484(a), then contact an experienced Orange County theft crimes attorney at the Law Offices of John D. Rogers. Call us today to schedule a free confidential consultation concerning your rights and defenses.

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Legal Footnotes:

[1] Penal Code 484(a) defined: “Every person who shall feloniously steal, take, carry, lead, or drive away the personal property of another, or who shall fraudulently appropriate property which has been entrusted to him or her, or who shall knowingly and designedly, by any false or fraudulent representation or pretense, defraud any other person of money, labor or real or personal property, or who causes or procures others to report falsely of his or her wealth or mercantile character and by thus imposing upon any person, obtains credit and thereby fraudulently gets or obtains possession of money, or property or obtains the labor or service of another, is guilty of theft.”

[2] See CALCRIM No. 1800: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/1800/1800/

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