Grand theft in California occurs when the value of the property stolen exceeds 950 dollars. A successful defense against this offense requires the expertise of a criminal defense lawyer because the crime can be categorized in various ways – through false pretense, trick, embezzlement, and larceny – and each way has a unique defense strategy. Vista Criminal Attorney Law Firm is available to defend you against grand theft or any other theft-related crimes. Our attorneys serve clients in all of Vista, California and neighboring cities.  

What is Grand Theft?

Penal code 487 generally describes grand theft as unlawfully taking another person’s property valued above 950 dollars. To be convicted of grand theft, the prosecutor must ascertain some crime elements, which vary depending on the type of grand theft. These types depend on how the crime is accomplished, that is, by larceny, pretense, embezzlement, or trick.

Grand theft by trick refers to taking property from another person through fraudulent means with an aim of depriving the property. It is achieved by moving the property away for a given period enough for that person to lose a considerable portion or value of that property. The period may even be a short time so long as the owner had not transferred the ownership of the alleged property to the accused.

Grand theft committed through embezzlement involves taking another person’s property in a fraudulent manner. The owner must have entrusted the property to the other person; upon the assignment of the property, the person used the property to increase personal gains, with the sole intention of depriving the owner of possession either momentarily or permanently.

Grand theft committed through false pretense involves deceiving or pretentiously persuading another person using false information to own their property; upon believing the pretense, the owner surrendered the ownership of their property. Furthermore, a person violates PEN 487 by false pretense if they:

  • Said anything that is untrue or false;
  • Thoughtlessly claimed that whatever they said or asserted was right, yet, they knew what they said was wrong;
  • Refused to give or supply the pertinent information that they are deemed responsible for providing; or
  • Made a false promise.

For grand theft committed through false pretense to hold, the prosecutor must confirm that the plaintiff relied on the false claims given to them. Similarly, the prosecution should provide some evidence that links the accused to the offense, which could be in the form of false or faked contract documents, a witness from at least two individuals, or testimonies from an individual backed with other different evidence. The evidence may also be in the form of forged writings or signatures.

Grand theft engineered by larceny involves physically carrying tangible items belonging to someone else without their permission. The defendant must have had the intention of either depriving the property permanently or temporarily for a period that could enable the owner to lose the value of their property or a significant portion of the enjoyment of the property. The prosecutor must prove that the defendant managed to move the property, even a short distance away from the original location.

What Is the Difference Between Theft and Robbery?

Theft is described as obtaining possession of someone else’s property with an intent to deprive the property from the owner. On the other hand, robbery involves taking someone’s property from their being or immediate possession against their will. The main disparity between the two offenses lies in the use of force – robbery charges count if force was used while theft doesn’t require the use of force.

What is the Difference between Petty Theft and Grand Theft?

The main difference between petty theft and grand theft lies on the value of property stolen or purported to have been taken. For instance, for a petty theft, the property value must be nine hundred and fifty dollars or below while for grand theft, the property must be valued at over 950 dollars. 

The enactment of the California Proposal 47 in 2014 made it possible to reduce the penalties of some crimes viewed as non-serious from felonies to misdemeanors. Consequently, shoplifting became a separate theft offense, allowing people charged with other theft offenses to seek resentencing of their charges to shoplifting misdemeanor. Before then, a person could face grand theft conviction even when the property in question was valued at less than 950 dollars, specifically if the item was a firearm, automobile, or animals like horse, camel, and sheep. Prosecutors also filed grand theft cases if a property was taken from the owner in their immediate presence such as their clothing, that is, in pickpocketing cases.

The proposition changed the way that such instances would be prosecuted; particularly, a person would be charged with petty theft as long as the property’s value is a maximum of 950 dollars, regardless of the type of item in question. Still, there are exemptions to this requirement: If a person steals an animal, firearms, automobiles, or pickpockets another person, they will face grand theft charges regardless of the value of the item and provided that:

  • They have been convicted before of a sex crime that requires sex offender registration or
  • They engaged in serious criminal charges including child molestation, forcible rape, murder, and great vehicular manslaughter.

You can as well be charged with grand theft if you continuously take from your employer items like money, personal property, whose value goes to an accumulated value of 950 dollars during any month of a year. 

Penalties for Grand Theft, Penal Code 487

Grand theft is usually a wobbler offense. The offense can be treated as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the evidence presented and the criminal history of the accused. If treated as a misdemeanor, the penalties will include a maximum of one year in county jail. For a felony, you are likely to face a felony probation consisting of a one-year county jail term, or a sentence of sixteen months, two years, or three years in jail for items that are not firearms.

If the offense involved a gun, the penalties will include 16 months, two, or three years in state prison. Besides, penal code 1192.7 (c) considers stealing as a serious felony. Consequently, the offense is a strike under the three-strikes law of California; this means that the subsequent similar offense is punished with twice the original sentence.

If the property has a substantial value, you may be subjected to enhanced penalties that involve an additional prison term. For instance, for a property costing over 65,000 dollars, the extra prison time is one year whereas an extra two years apply when the cost is above 200,000 dollars. Similarly, three years will be added if the value of the commodity is over 1,300,000 dollars and four years if the item is valued above 3,200,000 dollars.

Grand Theft Related Offenses

Different types of theft crimes can be charged alongside grand theft or as alternative charges to grand theft. All these offenses revolve around taking property from another person without their consent or unlawfully using the property for personal gains. However, they differ on the different crime elements that prosecutors must present for the particular crime.

Petty Theft (PC 484(a) and 488)

Petty theft prosecution applies when the value of the property stolen is 950 dollars or less. Petty theft charges may apply when there is a dispute in the actual property worth, for instance, a gold ring bought centuries ago. In such a scenario, nobody is sure of the actual property worth, and it is possible to seek lesser charges (petty theft or receiving stolen property) if you are facing grand theft charges. This offense is a misdemeanor whose penalties entail a maximum county jail term of six months, an up to 1000 dollars fine, or a combination of both punishments.

Petty Theft With A Prior Conviction Law (Penal Code 666)

This statute applies to people with prior convictions of theft crimes and results In harsher consequences. A previous conviction of one theft offense, plus another prior conviction of a severe felony (like a sex offense) makes the offense a wobbler. Likewise, if you have a prior conviction of theft or fraudulent robbing of an older adult, your case becomes a wobbler offense; thus you can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony grand theft. A misdemeanor conviction carries maximum penalties of a year in county jail and/or a fine of 1,000 dollars. If it is a felony, the maximum sentence is three years in state prison.

Grand Theft Auto

PEN 487 (d) (1), grand theft auto laws, applies if the property purported to have been stolen is a vehicle. This offense is treated as either a misdemeanor or felony depending on the facts availed to the court and whether the defendant has a prior conviction of the same offense or another related crime. In most cases, the offense is viewed as a felony whose penalties include either sixteen months, two year, or three years in jail. The penalties may also involve a 10,000 dollar fine or in some cases, both jail term and fines may apply.

Burglary, Burglary with Explosive, and Auto Burglary

According to PEN 459 burglary laws, it as a crime to enter an enclosed building with the aim of committing a felony or even a petty theft while inside the building. If you entered a car or a bounded house with the intention to steal, you are likely to face conviction for both grand theft and auto burglary. Burglary is a felony, whose possible penalties include a maximum jail term of three years; the jail term can go to a maximum of six years if the burglary scene was a currently inhabited structure, for example, a trailer or a residence.

If you attempted to open a protected space such as a vault or safe using objects like torches or explosives, the penalties are heightened. Such acts constitute to violations of PEN 464 burglary with explosive laws – the sentence can be as much as seven years in jail.


A person is charged under pc 211 robbery laws if he/she took another person’s property against the owner’s will, by using fear or force. A person faces both robbery and grand theft charges when the property alleged to be robbed has a value exceeding 950 dollars. Robbery is usually charged as a felony, with penalties depending on the degree of the robbery. For first-degree robberies, the consequences may include 10,000 dollars fine, a formal felony probation, three, four, or six years in state prison. For second degree robberies, the penalties will include two, three, or five years in state prison, a felony probation, and/or a maximum of 10,000 dollars as fine.

Forgery (PEN 470)

A person is charged with forgery if they sign or endorse another person’s name without his or her permission. Forgery charges also apply if a person fakes somebody’s handwriting, seal, or legal document, or presents (as original) a fake or altered deed of another person. Forgery is a wobbler offense. A misdemeanor forgery attracts a penalty of up to one year in county jail. It can also draw a fine of up to 1000 dollars. In some cases, you may be given informal summary probation and ordered to pay victim restitution.

If the forgery is a felony, the penalties will include sixteen months, two years, or three years in jail, a maximum fine of 10,000 dollars, and in some cases, summary probation and a requirement to pay the victim restitution

Instead of facing the above forgery penalties, a bad check diversion program may apply. The diversion programs vary with counties; for instance, people accused with passing forged checks in Los Angeles County would avoid criminal prosecution by making full victims’ restitution and attending eight-hours of intervention class.

Misappropriation of Public Resources (PEN 424)

The charge applies when the person who is in charge or under the control of public funds misappropriate the money or lends them to another person without permission. The misappropriation of federal funds charges, in most cases, apply to those in authority, including government officials and administrators. The offense is mostly treated as a felony, whose punishment may include two to four years in state prison.

Defense Strategies for Grand Theft

You had no intention of stealing

It is possible to claim that you had no aim of stealing but instead, you were in a hurry or took the item mistakenly. The lawyer may also claim that you forgot to pay or alternatively, you were obstructed. For instance, while shopping in a mall, you heard an alarm from your car parked outside the building which prompted you to rush while having merchandise worth 950 dollars and above. Similarly, while delivering some goods, you forgot to offload all of them from your car and ended up driving home with them. Clearly, these arguments would help to challenge the prosecutors ‘proof of intent’. 

You thought that the property was yours

The judge may dismiss the grand theft case if it is established that the property in question was yours – it is not logical to steal an item from yourself! Providing written documents to prove that you are the property owner would be advantageous to you. In most cases, this defense strategy applies when the property in question resembles your property.

The owner consented

A possible defense for grand theft is to assert that the property owner to give the ownership of their item. However, this legal dimension applies under the condition that the use or ownership of the property falls within the agreed terms. For instance, if you were given a particular belonging to use in a specific manner or purpose but ended up using differently, this defense strategy will not apply.

False Accusation

Many people face grand theft charges resulting from false accusation. The false accusation may arise whenever deals fail between the parties involved. It is possible to claim that you are a victim of false accusation or mistaken identity by, for example, providing written communication between you and the plaintiff that reveals a threat from the plaintiff to file charges against you if you did not honor a certain deal.

The statute of Limitation for Grand Theft

The statute of limitation is generally described as the amount of time that an individual is allowed to file a lawsuit. It is also referred to as ‘limitation period.’ Any person (a plaintiff) who within the period, fails to file a case, loses the legal right to recover the damages suffered.

The limitation period for a felony grand theft in California is usually three years from the day the crime was committed or noticed. However, with the enactment of penal code 801.5, the limitation period was shifted to four years from three years. The limitation period will be viewed as expired if, during the entire period, you have been a minor or were residing outside the state of California.

Find Vista Criminal Attorney Near Me

Penalties associated with grand theft are severe, especially when the value in question is over 65,000 dollars (where a sentence enhancement would apply). An experienced criminal defense attorney will help you to fight the charges and possibly reduce penalties or charges given to you. Vista Criminal Attorney Law Firm is available to represent you in your criminal defense case throughout Vista, California. Call our Vista Criminal Defense Attorney today at 760-691-1551 and let us take control of your case.