Petty Theft and Shoplifting
The legal definition of petty theft has certain elements that are necessary for a conviction. The elements of petty theft crimes are determined by the type of theft that has allegedly taken place. The types of petty theft crimes and their elements are as follows:
Theft by Larceny
- This type of theft occurs when someone physically carries off another person’s property. The legal definition is that a person took possession of another person’s property, they took that property without the owners permission, when they took the property they intended to either deprive the owner of their property permanently or for long enough that the owner would miss a major portion of the value or enjoyment of the property and that the person moved the owners property and kept it for a period of time, no matter how brief.
Theft by False Pretense
- This is also known as theft by fraud and is legally defined in Penal Code 532 as when a person knowingly and intentionally deceived a property owner by lying to them, they did this intending to persuade the owner to let them take possession of the property and the owner of the property lets the person take possession of it because they believed the lie.
- A jury is not supposed to convict a person of petty theft by false pretenses unless the prosecutor can produce one of the following as proof of that false pretense; a false writing or “false token”, a note or memorandum of the false pretense signed or handwritten by the defendant, testimony from at least two witnesses or testimony from one witness plus some other evidence.
Theft by Trick
- The legal definition of theft by trick, defined in Penal Code section 484, is that you obtained property that you knew was owned by someone else, that the owner of that property let you take possession of it because you had used some form of fraud or deceit, when you took possession of the property you intended to either deprive the owner of it permanently or to deprive the owner of it long enough that the owner would miss a major portion of the value or enjoyment of it, you kept the property for a length of time and the owner did not intend to transfer the property to you.
- The difference between petty theft by false pretense and petty theft by trick is that in the case of the false pretense the owner lets the other person have both possession of the property as well as formal title/ownership of it, but in petty theft by trick, the owner never intends to transfer the title, only possession.
Theft by Embezzlement
- The legal definition of petty theft by embezzlement is that the owner of a property entrusts that property to you and they did so because they trusted you. You then took or used that property for your own benefit and did so fraudulently and when you took the property you intended to deprive the owner of it, even for a temporary period of time.
Shoplifting is defined in Penal Code 459.5 as entering a commercial establishment while it is open during regular business hours with the intent to steal objects with a value of $950 or less. You can be charged with shoplifting even if you do not succeed in stealing the objects you intended too, all that matters is the intent. If you do succeed in shoplifting items worth $950 or less, you will only be charged with shoplifting and not with petty theft as well.
In order to determine the value of the property that was stolen, courts and prosecutors use fair market value as their scale. Fair market value is defined as the highest prove the property would have reasonably sold for in the market at the time it was stolen from the place it was stolen.
Shoplifting and petty theft are considered a misdemeanor, if a person is convicted of shoplifting, then they may face informal probation, up to 6 months in county jail and may even be fined up to $1,000. However, if this is the defendants first petty theft conviction and if they have no other theft crime or theft related convictions and the value of the money, property, services etc. that were stolen was $50 or less then your attorney may be able to get your charge reduced to a less serious offense, making the fine a maximum of $250. If it is the defendant’s first theft or theft related offense but the value of the items that they stole is more than $50, then there is still a chance that their attorney may be able to get their charge reduced. This would be an informal diversion, in this case the petty theft charges would be dismissed but in exchange the defendant would have to repay the value of the merchandise which they allegedly stole, they may have to complete a certain number of community service hours and/ or attend anti-theft classes.
If you are charged with petty theft and have a prior offense in a theft related crime and your prior theft conviction is for stealing from, embezzling from or defrauding an elder or you have one conviction of any one of the following: petty theft, grand theft, grand theft auto, burglary, carjacking, robbery or felony receiving stolen property. If you have a conviction on one of those counts and you have a prior sex crime that requires you to register as a sex offender or you have a serious felony in your past then your petty theft is considered a wobbler, meaning that it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.
Some possible defenses include asserting that you did not actually intend to steal the item; this defense applies more often in shoplifting cases. You believed the item actually belonged to you; this defense applies because it shows a lack of intent on your part. Another possible defense is arguing that the owner of the item consented to you taking it, therefore there is no charge. Finally, it can be argued that you were falsely accused or framed for a crime you never committed in the first place.
READY TO FIGHT FOR YOU
If you or a loved one is facing a petty theft or shoplifting charge, you need an aggressive Orange County criminal defense lawyer on your side. With offices in Costa Mesa, we serve people throughout Southern California, including in Huntington Beach, Irvine, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, and Los Angeles. Call (855) 505-5588 or contact us online for a free initial consultation.