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Grand Theft: What is the law and punishment?

California Penal Code 487(a) "Grand Theft" is a "wobbler" meaning it may be filed as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances of the case.  Grand theft is differentiated from "petty theft" by the value of the property that is taken.  Grand theft carries significant penalties and can be an embarrassing stain on ones criminal record.  

What Must Be Proven in a Grand Theft Case?

PC 496(a) requires the following to be proven:

  1. the defendant took by theft money, labor, or real or personal property of another; and
  2. the value of said money, labor, or real or personal property taken exceeded $950.00.

 The prosecution has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt that a grand theft has occurred.

What are the penalties for a Grand Theft?


PC 487(a) has a maximum fine of up to $2,000 and/or up to 1 year in county jail.  


PC 487(a) has a maximum fine of up to $10,000 and/or up to 3 years in state prison.

PC 487(a) is PC 1170(h) eligible allowing a sentence to be served in local county jail if the requirement are met.

What are the defenses to Grand Theft?

The value of the property did not exceed $950

Often times a victim or law enforcement will exaggerate or inflate the value of property.  An investigation into the true worth of property may reveal the value of the property does not exceed a value of $950.  Factors to consider in determining the value are the condition of the property, and the average cost of similar property in the market.  If it can be proven that value does not exceed $950, the defendant cannot be guilty of grand theft.   

The defendant did not intend to steal

Grand theft requires the defendant to intend to deprive the owner permanently of the property.  If the defendant is unknowingly in possession of the property, the defendant cannot be guilty of grand theft.  If another places the property in the defendant's vehicle before driving away without the defendant's knowledge, the defendant did not intent to steal the property

The property belonged to the defendant

If the victim claims theft but it can be proven the property belongs to the defendant, a grand theft has not occurred.  The burden is not the prosecution to establish the victim has ownership over the property that was allegedly taken.  This may be difficult to prove if the defendant has witnesses to say the property is the defendants or receipt of purchase can be shown.

The victim consented to the defendant taking the property

If permission was given at any point to take possession of the property, a grand theft has not occurred.  Borrowing property is common.  If the victim allowed a defendant to borrow property but later calls the police a grand theft likely has not occurred even if significant time has elapsed if it can be proven the intent was to return the property.

See also

PC 488 Petty Theft and Shoplifting

PC 496 Receiving Stolen Property

PC 666(a) Petty theft with a prior

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