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Criminal Defense Attorney in Riverside CA Gregory H. Comings

Petty Theft

What is Petty Theft?

As defined by California law, petty theft is the act of unlawfully taking someone else’s property without their consent, where the value of the stolen property is relatively low. The California Penal Code section 484(a) defines petty theft as the theft of property or services with a value not exceeding $950.

Certain elements must be met for an act to be considered petty theft. These elements include:

Unlawful taking: Petty theft involves taking someone else’s property without their permission or legal right. The property can be tangible items, such as merchandise from a store, or intangible items, such as services.

Lack of consent: The property must be taken without the owner’s consent. Consent can be expressed or implied, but the critical aspect is that the owner did not willingly permit the property to be taken.

Value limitation: The stolen property must have a value not exceeding $950. If the value exceeds this threshold, the offense may be considered grand theft, which carries more severe penalties under California law.

It’s important to note that the value of the stolen property is determined by its fair market value at the time of the theft. This means that if an item is on sale or has depreciated, the discounted or lower value would be considered when determining whether the act qualifies as petty theft.

The consequences of petty theft in California can vary depending on the circumstances and the defendant’s criminal history. Generally, petty theft is charged as a misdemeanor offense.

If convicted, the penalties may include a fine of up to $1,000 and imprisonment in county jail for a period not exceeding six months.

Additionally, a conviction for petty theft may have other consequences, such as a criminal record, potential probation, and restitution to the victim.

Shoplifting: Petty theft commonly occurs in the context of shoplifting, which refers to stealing merchandise from a store. Shoplifting offenses can include concealing items, altering price tags, or simply walking out of a store without paying for the goods.

Repeat Offenses: If an individual has prior convictions for theft-related offenses, subsequent petty theft offenses can be charged as felonies, even if the value of the stolen property is below $950. This is known as “petty theft with a prior” and can result in more severe penalties, including potential imprisonment in state prison.

Alternative Charges: In some cases, if the evidence supports it, a prosecutor may charge a defendant with a different offense instead of petty theft. For example, if the stolen property is a firearm, a motor vehicle, or certain agricultural products, the offense may be charged as grand theft regardless of its value.

Diversion Programs: In some jurisdictions, individuals accused of petty theft, mainly if it is their first offense, may be eligible for diversion programs. These programs offer an alternative to traditional criminal prosecution and may involve completing counseling, restitution, or community service in exchange for the charges being dropped or reduced.

Civil Penalties: Besides criminal charges, a person who commits petty theft may be held civilly liable for damages. The victim may pursue a separate civil lawsuit to recover the value of the stolen property, plus any additional losses or damages resulting from the theft.

What Are the Potential Penalties For A First-Time Offender Charged With Petty Theft?

As a first-time offender charged with petty theft in California, the potential penalties can vary depending on the circumstances of the case, the value of the stolen property, and other factors. Here is an overview of the potential penalties for a first-time offender:

Misdemeanor Charge: Petty theft is typically a misdemeanor offense for a first-time offender. Misdemeanors are less serious offenses compared to felonies and carry less severe penalties.

Fine: A first-time offender convicted of petty theft may face a fine of up to $1,000. The court can determine the exact amount of the fine based on various factors, including the value of the stolen property and the defendant’s financial situation.

Jail Time: A first-time offender convicted of petty theft may face imprisonment in county jail for a period not exceeding six months. However, it’s important to note that incarceration is not mandatory for every petty theft conviction, and the court has discretion in determining the appropriate punishment.

Probation: Instead of or in addition to jail time and fines, a first-time offender may be granted probation. Probation typically requires the defendant to comply with specific conditions, such as regular check-ins with a probation officer, completing community service, attending theft prevention classes, or refraining from committing further offenses during the probation period.

Restitution: The court may order a first-time offender to pay restitution to the victim for the value of the stolen property. Restitution is intended to compensate the victim for the losses resulting from the theft.

How Can a Criminal Defense Attorney Help Mitigate the Consequences Of A Petty Theft Charge?

A criminal defense attorney can play a crucial role in mitigating the consequences of a petty theft charge in several ways:

Legal Knowledge and Strategy: A defense attorney is well-versed in criminal law and can assess the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution’s case against you. They can identify potential legal defenses or procedural errors that may work in your favor. They can develop a strategic defense plan tailored to your specific circumstances based on their expertise.

Negotiating with Prosecutors: Defense attorneys have experience negotiating with prosecutors to reach favorable outcomes for their clients. They can engage in discussions to reduce the charges or penalties you face. For example, they may negotiate for a diversion program, where you complete specific requirements in exchange for having the charges dismissed.

Preparing and Presenting a Strong Defense: Your defense attorney will gather evidence, interview witnesses, and conduct a thorough investigation to build a strong defense on your behalf. They may challenge the evidence presented by the prosecution or question the credibility of witnesses. They will also ensure that your rights were not violated during the arrest or investigation process.

Knowledge of Sentencing Options: A defense attorney can advocate for the most lenient sentencing options available if you are convicted. They can argue for alternatives to jail time, such as probation, community service, or theft prevention programs. They can also present mitigating factors, such as your lack of prior criminal record, good character references, or evidence of remorse.

Guidance and Support: Legal processes can be overwhelming and confusing. A defense attorney will guide you every step of the way, explaining the charges, potential consequences, and available options. They will provide emotional support and ensure that your rights are protected throughout the process.

Trial Representation: If your case proceeds to trial, a defense attorney will represent you and present your defense before a judge or jury. They will skillfully cross-examine witnesses, present evidence, and make persuasive arguments to challenge the prosecution’s case and seek an acquittal.

Case Assessment and Investigation: A defense attorney will thoroughly review the details of your case, including police reports, witness statements, and any available evidence. They will assess the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution’s case against you. Through careful investigation, they may uncover new evidence or identify inconsistencies that can be used to challenge the allegations.

Expert Witness Testimony: In some cases, a defense attorney may call upon expert witnesses to provide testimony. For example, an expert in forensic accounting could challenge the prosecution’s valuation of the stolen property or a retail security expert could question the reliability of surveillance footage. Expert witnesses can add credibility and provide valuable insights supporting your defense.

Pretrial Motions: A defense attorney can file pretrial motions to challenge the admissibility of specific evidence or to suppress evidence that may have been obtained unlawfully. For instance, if your rights were violated during the search and seizure process, your attorney can argue that the evidence obtained should be excluded from the trial.

Plea Bargaining: If a trial is not in your best interest or the evidence against you is strong, your defense attorney can negotiate with the prosecution for a favorable plea bargain. They can work to reduce the charges or seek alternative sentencing options that may minimize the impact on your record and prospects.

Sentencing Advocacy: A defense attorney can advocate during the sentencing phase if you are convicted or choose to enter a plea. They can present mitigating factors, such as your circumstances, remorse, or efforts towards rehabilitation, to persuade the judge to impose a more lenient sentence.

Record Expungement or Sealing: In some cases, once you have completed your sentence or probation, a defense attorney can assist in pursuing record expungement or sealing. This process can help minimize the long-term consequences of a petty theft conviction by restricting access to your criminal record or potentially clearing it altogether.

Hire A Riverside Petty Theft Attorney

A skilled Riverside petty theft attorney can help you avoid jail time and fines if you have been charged with petty theft in California, as defined by PC 488. For effective defense against theft charges, The Law Office of Gregory H. Comings can provide superior legal representation if you have been charged with petty theft. Call us at (951) 686-3457 to arrange an initial meeting.


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