What Are the Penalties for Felony Theft in California?
Theft crimes are an unfortunate daily occurrence in the State of California. From pickpockets working Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles to organized retail theft rings targeting high-end stores in San Francisco, theft remains a persistent issue.
But, not all thefts are treated equally under California law. Depending on the circumstances and dollar value involved, the same basic act of theft can either be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony offense.
Felony charges bring much stiffer penalties compared to misdemeanors.
As an experienced criminal defense firm based in Rancho Cucamonga, we’ve represented clients facing felony theft charges for everything from shoplifting to embezzlement. We know how confusing California’s theft laws can be and how devastating a felony conviction can become.
That’s why in this article, we’ll provide an in-depth look at how theft is classified in California, when it becomes a felony, and what penalties you may face if convicted.
Where Does Theft Cross the Line Into a Felony in California?
California divides theft crimes into two categories:
- Petty Theft – Charged as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in county jail. Petty theft generally involves stealing property worth $950 or less.
- Grand Theft – Charged as a felony, punishable by up to 3 years imprisonment. Grand theft typically applies to thefts exceeding $950.
The main statute covering theft offenses is California Penal Code 487 PC. This law defines grand theft as stealing money, labor, or property valued over $950. Theft above this amount is considered grand theft and charged as a felony.
However, there are important exceptions where theft can become a felony even if the value is under $950:
- Theft of a firearm, car, or other motor vehicle
- Theft from the person of another individual
- Theft by an employee from their employer
- Theft from an elderly or disabled person
- Theft connected to your job duties or profession
In addition, any new theft conviction can be charged as a felony if you have certain prior theft convictions on your criminal record. This is known as “petty theft with a prior,” and we’ll examine it more closely later on.
Simply put, crossing the $950 threshold is the most common way for a basic theft to go from a misdemeanor to a felony. But as you can see, the circumstances around the theft play a major role as well.
What Penalties and Punishment Apply to Felony Grand Theft?
Now that we’ve seen how theft can become a more serious felony offense let’s discuss the potential consequences if convicted.
Felony convictions bring much harsher penalties compared to misdemeanors. Some key penalties you may face include:
Longer Jail Sentences
Petty theft penalties are limited to up to 6 months in county jail. But grand theft can potentially result in:
- 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in county jail – The actual sentence depends on the value of the stolen property. The higher the value, the longer the jail term.
- Up to 3 years in state prison – The court can order a state prison sentence rather than county jail for felony grand theft convictions. This is more likely if you have prior felonies on your record.
Jail sentences can be further extended by sentencing enhancements for prior felony convictions, gang affiliations, or committing theft against vulnerable victims.
Steeper Fines and Restitution
Misdemeanor petty theft has a maximum fine of $1,000. However, fines for felony grand theft can potentially reach up to $10,000.
In addition, the court will likely order you to provide full restitution to any victims for the value of stolen property. For high-value thefts, restitution costs alone can total in the tens of thousands of dollars or higher.
Tougher Probation Terms
The maximum probation period for misdemeanors is 12 months. But felony theft can bring up to 2 years of formal probation. Probation terms are also stricter, often involving community service, mandatory drug testing, theft prevention classes, and other conditions. Violating any terms may lead to probation revocation and jail time.
Serious Criminal Record Impact
Perhaps most damaging is the fact that a felony conviction remains permanently on your criminal record. This can severely hamper future job, housing, and loan applications. Many employers won’t hire applicants with any felony record at all.
Certain professional licenses can also be revoked for those with a felony theft conviction. This includes many healthcare and financial licenses.
Overall, while misdemeanors certainly aren’t good, felony convictions bring much more damaging lifelong consequences.
How Can Experienced Attorneys Defend Against Felony Theft Charges?
Given the serious penalties you may face if convicted of felony grand theft, putting on the strongest legal defense possible is crucial.
An experienced criminal defense lawyer can evaluate the evidence against you and develop an effective strategy to challenge the charges. Some approaches we may use include:
- Contesting overly broad theft charges – We’ll review if the prosecution is overcharging based on the circumstances. For example, we can argue the value of stolen property is below the $950 felony threshold and should only be a misdemeanor.
- Disputing intent – If there’s evidence you didn’t intentionally commit theft, such as believing you had permission to take the property, we can argue you lacked criminal intent.
- Negotiating charge reductions – We frequently negotiate with prosecutors to reduce charges to a misdemeanor to avoid the harsh penalties of a felony conviction.
- Filing suppression motions – If your rights were violated during arrest or searches, we could seek to exclude damaging evidence from your trial.
- Challenging witness credibility – Any weaknesses in witness testimony against you can be highlighted to raise reasonable doubts about the theft allegations.
- Seeking record expungement – If convicted of misdemeanor theft, we may be able to have the conviction expunged from your record after probation.
The key is developing a defense strategy that provides the strongest chance of an acquittal or conviction on lesser charges. An experienced lawyer’s skills in negotiation and litigation can make all the difference.
Don’t Gamble Your Future – Contact Our Firm For a Case Review
As you can see, California takes theft crimes very seriously, with felony grand theft bringing potentially life-changing consequences. But an experienced theft defense attorney can often get charges reduced – or even dismissed.
If you are being investigated or have been charged with any type of theft crime, I strongly encourage you to contact our firm immediately for a case evaluation. Our dedicated attorneys will carefully examine your charges, discuss defense options, and guide you through this difficult process.
Don’t wait and risk harsh penalties – call our office today to schedule a free case review.