Theft weakens the fabric of any culture. From the dawn of human history, citizens have been taught that stealing is immoral and cannot be tolerated. As societies have become more advanced, the ways in which personal property can be violated have become more complex. Current laws in California designate different types of theft and the consequences for each offense. Understand the laws concerning theft by studying the designations below:



Embezzlement is designated by California law as a type of property theft. This crime happens when an employee, or someone who is appointed to manage or oversee someone else’s finances or property, unlawfully takes a portion or all of the belongings in question. The defendant has been given lawful access, but not lawful ownership of the property.

Embezzlement can occur under many different circumstances. Family members caring for a relative may embezzle while being in the position of trust. Employees may steal from employers or from the business itself. Companies may steal from other businesses under their authority or power, and professionals such as lawyers or board members may use their position of authority as a means to take advantage of the finances or property of another.

A conviction for embezzlement usually results in a jail or prison sentence, fine, or a combination of the two. Embezzlement of property valued at less than $950 is considered a misdemeanor. The consequences would involve a possible jail sentence of six months or less, with a fine assessed at up to $1,000 fee. Embezzlement of money or property that has accrued a value of more than $950 is considered grand theft. A conviction in this category carries a penalty of jail time up to a year if designated as a misdemeanor. If the offense is classified as felony grand theft, the penalty is much stiffer. State prison time may be given between 16 months to two years for those found guilty at this level.

Grand Theft    

Embezzlement is a specific type of what is categorized as grand theft. Grand theft is a general term for any theft of property with a value of $950 or more. This property can include jewelry, electronics, weapons and more. Grand theft is a felony under California law. If the stolen property is a type of motor vehicle, it can be specifically designated as grand theft auto, which is designated as a felony offense.

The punishment of grand theft varies due to the specifics of the case. The levels are typically designated as 16 months to two- or three-year terms. Fines may also be assessed according to the circumstances of the case.

Petty Theft     

California law defines the stealing of any property with a value of $950 or less as petty theft. Most petty theft charges are classified as misdemeanors. Shoplifting is classified as petty theft if the property is at this monetary level or if the defendant has had no prior convictions. Property falling under this category may again include jewelry, guns or electronics, but may also include clothing, shoes and a wide variety of personal property.

A petty theft misdemeanor charge in California carries a penalty of up to six months in the county jail, a fine of no more than $1,000, or a combination of both. If the property is not valued at more than $50, the prosecutor may charge the crime as an infraction. This offense is punishable with a fine or no more than $250.

Receiving Stolen Property           

California law specifies that it is illegal to take ownership or possess property that is known or should be known to have been stolen. In order for a conviction to be achieved, the prosecuting team has a burden of proof for all of the following aspects:

  1. The defendant took possession of or aided to sell or conceal what had been stolen. AND
  2. The defendant should have known or actually knew that the property being considered was stolen. AND
  3. The defendant knew of the whereabouts of the belongings in question.

The benchmark of offense is again $950. If the worth of this property is not calculated at more than this amount, the crime will typically be treated as a misdemeanor. As a matter of standard practice, this designation is charged by up to the length of one year of confinement and a charge of up to a $1,000 fee. If the value of the stolen items exceeds the $950 benchmark, the offense may be tried as a felony punishable by either 16 months to two or three years of confinement in the county jail or prison facilities. The maximum fine for the offense of felony receipt of stolen property is $10,000.


California theft laws reflect the serious offense of taking property from an individual or company. These laws are complex because there is a wide scope of crimes associated with theft to be considered and addressed.  Equip yourself with the knowledge of both the classifications and consequences designated by California’s expansive laws.