Petty Theft Attorney in Orange County

Don’t let the term “petty theft” fool you.

Being charged with a petty theft crime can lead to a wide range of potential penalties, including fines and jail time. If convicted, you will have a criminal record that may affect many aspects of your life, from employment to immigration status.

Although less serious than grand theft, the charge of petty theft needs to be taken just as seriously when it comes to preparing a defense.

Nobody wants a momentary lapse of judgment or a wrongful accusation to affect their entire life.

Our legal team at The Law Offices of Bryan R. Kazarian will defend your rights to avoid the serious consequences of a petty theft conviction.

Petty Theft Charges in Orange County

Petty theft charges are outlined under California Penal Code § 484:

(a) Every person who shall feloniously steal, take, carry, lead, or drive away the personal property of another, or who shall fraudulently appropriate property which has been entrusted to him or her, or who shall knowingly and designedly, by any false or fraudulent representation or pretense, defraud any other person of money, labor or real or personal property, or who causes or procures others to report falsely of his or her wealth or mercantile character and by thus imposing upon any person, obtains credit and thereby fraudulently gets or obtains possession of money, or property or obtains the labor or service of another, is guilty of theft.”

Petty theft occurs when a person unlawfully takes another’s property valued at $950 or less. Theft of property worth more than $950 can result in a charge of grand theft under California Penal Code § 487.

As you have seen in the above definition, petty theft covers a broad category of crimes encompassing offenses (detailed below) that are classed as misdemeanors in Orange County.

Theft by Larceny

Theft by larceny is one of the most common and simplest forms of petty theft.

It occurs when a physical property is taken away from its legal owner by another without consent, with the intent to permanently deprive them of its use.

  • A good example of this is shoplifting from a store or stealing property from a friend.
Theft by False Pretenses

Theft by false pretenses is a form of petty theft where the accused knowingly and intentionally deceives a property owner by false or fraudulent representation or pretense.

It often takes the form of a deliberate lie or false claim to deceive the property owner.

  • Good examples of this crime are paying for goods and services using money that the payor knows is forged or pretending to be a store employee and walking out without paying for an item.

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Theft by Trick

This is similar to theft by false pretenses in that it involves deceit. However, with petty theft by trick, the defendant does not obtain ownership (“title”) of the property – only possession.

  • If, for example, a friend offers to fix your laptop computer, you then hand it over for the sole purpose of getting it fixed. Later, if the laptop is not returned and you can show that you did not intend to give up ownership and your friend did not intend to return the laptop, the friend can be charged with theft by trick if it is valued at $950 or less.

    Another good example is changing the price tag on an item you want to buy in a store.

Theft By Embezzlement

Theft by embezzlement occurs when someone unlawfully takes ownership of entrusted property.

  • A good example of this form of petty theft is where the treasurer of a company, who is entrusted with looking after the financial affairs of the organization, steals money of $950 or less.

    Another example is a bank employee stealing cash, taking advantage of a position of trust with access to considerable sums of money.

Note that embezzlement of cash is only one form of this type of theft. It can involve any type of property, including office supplies.

What happens if you’re convicted of a petty theft crime?

A conviction for petty theft can result in six months in jail, fines up to $1,000, and up to three years’ probation.

However, these are not mandatory punishments. They represent the maximum sentencing exposure you could face. By working with an experienced petty theft attorney, you can minimize this exposure.

Bear in mind that a misdemeanor on your criminal record can have major consequences for employment, housing, and other important matters.

For instance, if you are hoping to apply for citizenship, a petty theft conviction may be regarded as a crime of “moral turpitude”, which could lead to deportation or denial of naturalization or citizenship.

Moreover, a petty theft conviction may lead to the denial of a government application for licensing. For example, if you are seeking a nursing, real estate, or attorney license, a conviction may be a component the licensing authorities will consider when determining whether to grant or deny your application for licensing with that agency.

This is why speaking with an experienced theft attorney should be a priority as soon as you are arrested and charged with a petty theft offense.

Petty Theft With a Prior

Not surprisingly perhaps, the penalties for petty theft become more severe if you have prior convictions on your record.

Under Penal Code § 666, prosecutors can charge petty theft with a prior as a misdemeanor or a felony if:

  • You have a prior conviction for a theft crime, a violent offense, or certain sex crimes, and
  • You have served time in a penal institution for that conviction

The associated sentencing enhancements for petty theft with a prior can mean a penalty of up to three years in state prison as well as fines and probation.

Penalties for Shoplifting Convictions

Shoplifting occurs when someone enters an open business with the intent to steal merchandise worth $950 or less (if the value of property stolen is over $950, you could be charged with grand theft).

A conviction for shoplifting in Orange County carries the same potential penalties as any other petty theft charge.

Remember, shoplifting falls under the category of petty theft by larceny.

As such, a first conviction could result in six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000 plus penalty assessments. However, with the assistance of a petty theft lawyer, jail time is less likely.

Typically, first-time offenders may incur a summary probation sentence and fines including penalty assessments, community service, or community labor.

With a prior criminal history or if you are serving probation for another offense, keeping you out of jail is more challenging. However, it is still possible with an experienced attorney like Bryan R. Kazarian.

Defending petty theft charges

The best defenses to petty theft charges always depend on the specific circumstances of your case and the type of petty theft you have been charged with.

That said, some defenses have consistently proven to be effective in the right circumstances, especially if you have no prior convictions.
These include:

  • Consent – you had consent to take an item (either by the owner or an “agent” of the owner) and you were charged due to a misunderstanding e.g., you believed that you could keep a company computer for professional use.

  • A claim of right – you believed that you had a right to the property, even if that belief is mistaken or unreasonable.

  • No possession – calling into doubt the fact that you ever took possession of the property in question can be a legitimate defense for petty theft charges.
  • No intent – an honest mistake was made and there was no intent to permanently deprive an owner of an item. If you can show that you had no intent to steal property e.g., you forgot to pay for an item or borrowed an item from a friend, a petty theft conviction is unlikely.

The skills of your defense lawyer are key here and the more time available to work on your defense, the better the chance of a positive outcome.

Charged with a petty theft offense in Orange County?

If you or a loved one have been charged with petty theft, your best defense is for an attorney from The Law Offices of Bryan R. Kazarian to fight for your rights and your freedom.

Contact us for a free case evaluation.

We have offices in Santa Ana, Westminster, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino, and serve the surrounding areas including Newport Beach and Fullerton. Our lawyers at The Law Offices of Bryan R. Kazarian are available 24/7 to help! Book a free online consultation to get started today.
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