Petty theft at first glance seems to infer a crime that is equivalent to jaywalking and littering which would be punishable with a small fine or a crime that could go unnoticed by law enforcement. This delineation may be the result of the name of the crime: “Petty Theft.” The word “petty” implies that the crime is so trivial as to not warrant any serious consequences and/or punishment by the court; that law enforcement would be focused on more serious crimes. There is a cultural misconception where a “petty” crime may be seen as unimportant and insignificant where people would steal unafraid of any serious repercussions. Petty theft, however, is a serious crime that should not be taken lightly and can have serious consequences and repercussions to one’s future.


California Penal Code 484 and 488 define petty theft as when a person has (1) committed the crime of theft and (2) that the property was valued at $950 or less. In order to be guilty of theft a person must have intended to permanently or temporarily deprive another out of the use and enjoyment of their property, or defraud another out of land or services. If convicted, petty theft is punishable by fine not exceeding $1000, or by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months or both. If the property was valued over $950, then the person may be charged with grand theft.

If a person is convicted of petty theft of property that is valued under $50, then the California Penal Code 490 states the person may be charged as a misdemeanor or infraction by the prosecutor and fined up to $250.


California Penal Code 666, also known as “Petty Theft with a Prior,” allows prosecutors to charge any person who has been convicted three or more times of petty theft or has been convicted of theft crimes set forth in this section and served at least 1 day in jail as a felony. Punishment for this crime could be up to one year in a county jail or 16 months, or 2 to 3 years in State Prison (served in County Jail) depending on the severity of the crime.

Serious consequences can disrupt a person’s life other than fines or jail time if convicted of petty theft. In Forero-Arias v. Mukasey, the court described petty theft as a “crime of moral turpitude.” The consequences of a petty theft conviction could automatically disqualify a person from certain employment, college acceptance, or anything that requires a background check which further enhances the fact that petty theft is a serious crime. However, there are defenses to petty theft if charged.


– Lack of “Specific Intent”: The person did not intend to steal the item, but rather it was a mistake.

– Permission- the person had permission to take the item, in which there would be no theft.

– Framed- the person was wrongly accused of the crime for someone else’s actions.

Do not take any petty theft issue lightly. If you have been arrested, cited, or detained for petty theft it is important that you regard this as a serious issue. It is imperative that you receive competent legal advice immediately. After being arrested, cited, or detained call The Law Offices of Bryan R. Kazarian at (855) 918-4253 today to set up a free consultation with an attorney who can give you clear and concise information about your rights.