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Petty Theft with a Prior: What is the law and punishment?

California Penal Code 666(a) "petty theft with a prior" is a potentially serious misdemeanor or felony.  Being accused of taking an item of relatively small value can lead to serious consequences and jail time if not handled properly.

What Must Be Proven in a petty theft with a prior case?

PC 666(a) requires the following to be proven:

  1. the defendant has a prior petty theft, grand theft, auto theft, burglary, carjacking, robbery;
  2. the defendant served a term in a penal institution; and
  3. the defendant was subsequently convicted of petty theft;

 The prosecution has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt that a petty theft occurred and that the defendant has a prior conviction.

What are the penalties for a petty theft with a prior?

Misdemeanor

PC 666(a) has a maximum fine of up to $2,000 and/or up to 1 year in county jail.  

Felony

PC 666(a) has a maximum fine of up to $10,000 and/or up to 3 years in state prison.

What are the defenses to petty theft with a prior?

The defendant did not intend to steal

The prosecution must prove the defendant had the intent to steal the victim's property.  Both an unintentional taking or if the intent was to return the property than a petty theft has not occurred.  Honest mistakes or borrowing without permission with intent to return are defenses to petty theft.

The property belonged to the defendant

Victims often mistake your property for theirs.  If the defendant lawfully purchased the property or it was otherwise transferred to their control, a petty theft has not occurred.  

The victim consented to the defendant taking the property

A theft requires property to be taken without permission.  If the true owner of the property consented to the defendant taking the property at one point, it is likely an argument can be made that a theft has not occurred.

The defendant does not have the requisite prior convictions for PC 666(a)

PC 666(a) requires specific prior convictions in the defendant's criminal history.  In addition, the defendant must have served time in a penal institution for that conviction.  Both must be true and it is up to the prosecution to prove each element.  Court records can be incorrect or mistaken or the prosecutor may be overzealous when reading a defendant's criminal history.  If this can be proven than the defendant cannot be found guilty of PC 666(a).

See also

PC 488 Petty Theft and Shoplifting

PC 487(a) Grand Theft 

PC 496 Receiving Stolen Property

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If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, call the Law Offices of Steven McNicholl at (951) 405-0990. We have the skill and experience in San Bernardino County to protect your rights and get the best results in your case.

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