California Penal Code §484 establishes the crime of Petty theft. To be convicted of petty theft in California, you must have stolen someone else’s property, and the value of the property must be less than $950. In essence, grand theft and petty theft are two sides to the same coin; they involve the same conduct, the only difference is the value of the items stolen. The magic number is $950.

There are a number of variations of petty theft, and each variation has their own unique elements that must be proven in order to obtain a conviction. In Plain English, there are several forms of petty theft; it can be accomplished by larceny, trick, false pretense, or embezzlement.

Since the Prosecution will have to prove every element of whichever variation of petty theft they are seeking to obtain a conviction on, it is important to understand the elements of each crime. The attorneys at Orange County Criminal Attorney have extensive experience representing clients in a number of criminal charges including grand theft. As a result of their years of practice, training, and court appearances, our OCCA attorneys have an intimate understanding of the Law and the elements necessary to prove the case sufficiently. A detailed analysis of each form of grand theft is set forth below.

What Is Petty Theft By Larceny?

Under California law, theft by larceny occurs when you physically grab the property of another, and carry it away. In order to be convicted of grand theft by larceny the Prosecution must prove 4 elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. You gained possession of somebody else’s property.
  2. You took the property without having obtained consent from the owner.
  3. When you took the property from the victim, you intended to deprive them of that property permanently.
  4. You moved the property, even a small distance, or kept the property for a period of time, no matter how brief.


Clark sneaks into the Civic Theater to catch a peak at the latest plays being performed there because he didn’t want to spend the money to gain admission. Clark has not committed larceny because he did not take something and carry it away.


Clark has two hats that he owns, deciding he’d rather make money off of his hat, rather than let spiders build their homes on it in his closet; Clark leases one of the hats to Joey. After 6 months, Clark decides he wants his hat back, and asks joey to return it to him Joey has grown fond of the hat, and was supposed to have the hat for another 6 months, so he says no. Late at night, Clark snuck into Joey’s house and took the hat back. Clark can be found guilty of petty theft by larceny because he did not have a right to possess the hat while he was leasing it to Joey, and he caused the hat to move away. The hat is worth less than $950, so that satisfies the value requirement to maintain a charge of petty theft by larceny.

What Is Petty Theft By False Pretense?

The crime of false pretenses is established in California Penal Code §532. In order to obtain a conviction for grand theft by false pretenses the Prosecutor must prove five elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. You intentionally tricked the rightful owner of property with a misleading representation;
  2. You committed that act with the intent of gaining possession and ownership of the property;
  3. The victim allowed you to take possession and ownership of the property because they relied on your false representation.
  4. You committed the act with the goal of convincing the true owner of the property to give you possession and ownership of the property.
  5. The reason the owner let you have ownership and possession of the item is because they relied of your misrepresentations.

A key fact to be proven by the Prosecutor in a false pretense case is that the victim actually was deceived based on his reliance on the Defendant’s false representations; this must be a major factor in the victim’s decision to transfer his ownership right to the Defendant.

In California, the Prosecution faces a difficult time proving theft by false pretenses. The Prosecution must show that the false representation was accompanied by a writing or a token.


Clark needed to borrow money from Dave, and came up with clever ruse to obtain that loan. He approached Dave with a “contract” purporting to secure the loan from Dave by putting Clark’s car up as collateral. Unbeknownst to Dave, Clark did not have a car. Clark can be found guilty of theft by false pretenses, provided the Prosecutor also submits the writing Clark provided to Dave.

What Is Petty Theft By Trick?

In order to obtain a conviction for theft by trick, the Prosecution must prove three elements:

  1. You obtained property which you knew was owned by someone else.
  2. The owner of the property consented to your possession of that property as a result of your use of fraudulent or deceitful actions.
  3. When you obtained the property from the victim, you intended to permanently keep that property, or keep it from the true owner for an extended period of time.

Additionally it is necessary to distinguish false pretense and larceny by trick. Larceny by trick occurs when the victim did not allow the Defendant to gain possession of the property, but the victim was fooled by the defendant who stole the property. In contrast, false pretense occurs when the defendant has gained full possession and ownership of the property by tricking the victim into consenting to the transfer.

What Is Petty Theft By Embezzlement?

To be convicted of grand theft by embezzlement the Prosecutor must prove three elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The owner of property willingly gave that property to the defendant based on trusting relationship.
  2. The Defendant took the property for his own gain.
  3. When the defendant took the property, it was with the end goal of causing the true owner to lose the benefit of its use.


Clark works at a local bank. One of the customers comes in and asks him if he could give a $20 watch to the manager as a gift for services he had performed earlier that month. Clark wanted a new watch, and thought this watch looked better on his wrist anyways, so he took it. Clark is guilty of petty theft by embezzlement.

What Penalties Can I Face If I Am Convicted Of Petty Theft?

If the Defendant is charged with misdemeanor grand theft, they may be penalized with up to a year of imprisonment, and a fine of up to $1,000, or a combination of both jail time and a fine. If the grand theft is charged as a felony, the Defendant could face incarceration ranging from months to years; specifically, the Defendant could be facing sixteen months, two years, or three years of incarnation.

What Are The Legal Defenses My Attorney Can Raise If I Am Charged With Petty Theft?

In California, a petty theft is chargeable as a misdemeanor violation. If you are convicted of petty theft, the information will appear on your criminal record. Employees typically conduct a background check when they are considering hiring a person for a job with their company. Employers are uneasy about hiring people with criminal convictions on their background check. This is compounded by the fact that the conviction is for theft, which involves dishonesty; employers do not like to hire people they worry are dishonest. If you have been charged with petty theft in California contact an attorney at Orange County Criminal Attorney immediately. Having an Orange County Crimainl Attorney to assist you with you case can have many tangible benefits. Your OCCA attorney may be able to meet with the Prosecution, and convince them not to bring charges, or to drop the charges. Your OOrange County Crimainl Attorney will build a strong case in your defense attempting to negate one of the key elements the Prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to maintain a conviction. If you are ultimately convicted, your OCCA attorney will advocate for the lowest penalty available. Some of the defenses your Orange County Crimainl Attorney can raise include: You did not intend to commit the crime

The key component to a conviction for petty theft is an intent to commit a theft. If that intent is not present then you cannot be convicted of petty theft. For example, an individual enters a store without intending to take anything. While perusing the selection, the individual grabs ear rings they like, and places it in their bag, but forgot that they put it there. They may be able to avoid a criminal charge for theft based on the fact that there was no intent to commit a theft, it was a complete accident.

  • Wrongfully accused.
  • In California, it is very easy to be wrongfully accused. There are a plethora of reasons why someone would falsely accuse another person, but the general motives include rage, jealously, and revenge. If you have been wrongfully accused of petty theft contact an attorney from Orange County Criminal Attorney immediately. We have represented wrongfully accused individuals before and will fight to protect your freedom.
  • Mistake of fact.

People are sometimes accused by mistake, without any malice on the part of the accuser. For example a security guard may have mistakenly believed they observed you taking an item and hiding it in your bag, when you did not. If that is the case your Orange County Criminal Attorney can raise that defense, and in all likelihood have your case thrown out before it goes any further.