Like many states, California classifies theft offenses according to the value of the property taken. California law measures the value of stolen property by the reasonable and fair market value of the property. If services are stolen, the value of the services is determined according to the contract price for those services. If there is no contract price, the offense will be measured according to the reasonable and going wages for the services. There are several types of theft and different charges for a variety of situations, depending on the details of the crime. 

Petty Theft

In California, petty theft is defined as the theft of any property with a value of $950 or less. Most petty thefts are charged as misdemeanors, which carry a sentence of up to six months in county jail, a fine of no more than $1,000, or both. However, if the property has a value of $50 or less, the prosecutor can charge the offense as an infraction, so long as the offender has had no other theft-related conviction. Petty theft charged as an infraction is punishable by a fine of no more than $250.

Petty Theft with a Prior Conviction

A petty theft involving property stolen valued at $950 or less may be charged as a felony or misdemeanor if the offender has the following prior convictions. The convictions are limited to at least one prior petty or theft-related conviction for which a term of imprisonment was served, or a prior conviction for a serious or violent offense, for any registerable sex offense, or embezzlement from a dependent adult or anyone over the age of 65. A misdemeanor can result in a sentence of up to one year in jail, whereas a felony can mean incarceration for anywhere between and three years. 

Grand Theft

Grand theft includes theft of property with a value of more than $950 or theft of a firearm. The penalty for stealing a firearm is a felony, punishable by a state prison term of 16 months, two years, or three years. In all other cases, grand theft can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. A misdemeanor sentence results in up to one year in jail and a felony sentence results in prison time of 16 months, two years, or three years. 


A person who commits grand theft or petty theft during a state of emergency, local emergency, or evacuation order is guilty of looting. Looting involving grand theft (stealing items valued over $950) results in a misdemeanor offense, with a misdemeanor penalty of up to one year in jail and a felony penalty of 16 months, two years, or three years of incarceration. When petty theft is involved, the punishment is a misdemeanor with a six-month jail sentence. Both looting penalties carry a minimum jail sentence that can only be reduced when a judge decides the reduction is in the interest of justice. 


Shoplifting in California can result in both criminal and civil penalties. If a defendant enters a store, while that establishment is open, intending to steal property worth less than $950, that is considered shoplifting in California. The crime is considered a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in the county jail.

Hiring an Attorney 

If you are charged with or accused of committing petty or grand theft, you should talk to a California criminal defense attorney immediately. Even a petty theft conviction can have serious consequences. A criminal theft record can impact your ability in the future to get a job, housing, or a loan. A local criminal defense attorney can give you reliable advice that takes into account the charges, the law, the immediate and future consequences, and the local court system. An experienced attorney will know how to approach your situation in the courtroom and will prioritize your well-being and your future. While the state of California is strict about how it charges a defendant for theft, an experienced attorney will have leverage and will know how to navigate a difficult case. 

You should not attempt to handle a theft charge on your own or rely on a public defender. When your life and your freedom are at risk, it is vital to do everything you can to ensure that you will get a fair trial. Don’t hesitate to find someone local that you can trust. 

The Law Offices of Grant Bettencourt

If you or someone you know is facing a theft charge in California, Grant Bettencourt can help. We handle misdemeanor, felony, DUI and juvenile criminal cases in the State of California. Our offices are located in Orange County and Long Beach. If you are out of state and the case is being charged in California, we can help. Call 925-788-7178 or click here to make an appointment.