It can be tempting to take something like a laptop, purse, or phone someone left behind. The person who lost their property may even be able to afford the loss without any real problem. However, even if the person who loses their money or property isn't hurt by the loss, the police can still arrest you for theft.
The difference between a minor petty theft charge and more serious grand theft charges depends on the type of property, how it is taken, and the value of the goods. Theft of property valued at over $950 is considered grand theft. This means you could face felony theft charges for stealing something worth $951 but only petty theft for $949 worth of goods.
The prosecutor may make it seem like you have no option but to plead guilty after being arrested for grand theft in Oakland or the East Bay. But you always have rights. If you were arrested for theft or shoplifting in Alameda County or Contra Costa, contact East Bay criminal defense attorney Lynn Gorelick.
California Grand Theft Laws
Under California Penal Code 487(a), grand theft is theft committed “when the money, labor, or real or personal property taken is of a value exceeding nine hundred fifty dollars ($950).”
Grand theft also applies to theft of an automobile or a firearm, no matter what the value of the gun or car might be. Theft of a car worth $100 could still be considered grand theft in California.
There are also special grand theft laws in California that focus on the state's agricultural industry and fishing industry. For example, under CPC 487(b), grand theft includes theft of chickens, avocados, citrus fruits, and other farm crops of over $250. This lower value also applies to theft of fish, shellfish, or kelp from a commercial or research operation.
Can You Go to Jail for Theft of $1,000 or More?
Petty theft is a misdemeanor offense and carries up to 1 year of jail time. However, grand theft is a more serious charge. Grand theft can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, also known as a “wobbler.” How the prosecutor charges the case may depend on several factors, including:
- Total value of the stolen property
- How the property was taken
- Prior criminal history
- Type of victim of the theft
- Other circumstances
If you are charged with felony grand theft, you can face up to 3 years in prison. Even after you get out of prison, you may still have to be on parole for a number of years. Convicted felons also have a harder time getting a job after they get out, or even finding housing or getting public benefits. Talk to your criminal defense attorney about how you can get the grand theft charges reduced to a misdemeanor or if you want to fight the charges.
The Prosecutor Claims the Property Is Worth Too Much
How does the prosecutor prove the value of the property? If you take a small item from a store, you may think it is only worth a couple of hundred dollars. If you are arrested, you may be surprised to hear you are being charged with grand theft. It may even seem obvious that the prosecutor is claiming the property is worth more than it is.
Calculating Value of Stolen Property
According to the California Jury Instructions, the value of the property is the fair market value of the property. Fair market value is the highest price the property would reasonably have been sold for in the open market at the time and location of the theft.
For example, a new iPhone might be valued at about $1,000. Even if you argue that it is possible to get the phone on sale and it would be less than $1,000, if the prosecutor shows other stores in the area are selling the phone for more than $950, it could be considered grand theft, even if you don't think the property is worth that much.
It is not hard to get to $950 if you take a couple of things from a store. You could add up to the grand theft amount by taking: a couple of designer sunglasses, video game console and games, mobile phone or tablet, luxury shoes, diamond jewelry, an electric bike, or a big screen tv.
$1,000 does not even seem like a lot of money in 2022. The California legislature raised the property value for grand theft from $400 to $950 in 2010. Since then, the limit for grand theft hasn't taken into account inflation and price hikes in California. You could struggle to even rent a room for $950 in the East Bay.
Firearm Theft Felony Charges
Theft of a firearm is also grand theft. Stealing a gun can be a felony offense even if the gun is not worth $1,000. It may be more difficult to get gun theft charges reduced to a misdemeanor. Talk to your Alameda County gun crime defense lawyer about how to get charges reduced in your grand theft case.
Someone Gave Me the Stolen Property
Some people find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. A “friend” or acquaintance may stop by and drop something off that they will pick up later. If this package ends up containing stolen property, the police might assume that you took the property and charge you with theft.
Claiming the property belonged to someone else is a common excuse. Even if it is true, the police might just assume you are lying and can still accuse you of grand theft. How can you defend yourself if you were not the one who did anything wrong? Many people who are wrongly accused even admit they did it just to avoid more serious criminal penalties.
Even if you did not take the property, receiving stolen property is a crime in California. Under California Penal Code 496, you can go to jail for a year if you know that you are receiving, buying, or concealing stolen property. If you are being falsely accused of theft or receiving stolen property, talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney before you plead guilty to something you didn't do.
East Bay Grand Theft Legal Defense
East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 38 years of criminal defense experience and understands how to approach each case for the greatest chance for success. Representing individuals in Oakland, Alameda County, and Contra Costa County, Lynn Gorelick is familiar with the local diversion programs, prosecutors, and judges involved in cases just like yours.