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Los Angeles Grand Theft Attorneys California Penal Code 487 PC

Overview of California Theft Laws

In California, theft (also known as larceny) is defined as the intentional and unlawful taking and carrying away of the property of another. While this basic definition may seem simple, the Penal Code creates a complex framework of theft laws, which create different types and categories of theft. For example, theft by larceny, theft by false pretense, theft by trick, and theft by embezzlement have different elements, but all fall under the umbrella term of theft and can result in criminal liability. Additionally, California law creates two different categories of theft: petty theft and grand theft, which carry severely different penalties.

If you are accused or suspected of Grand Theft, call us at (800) 458-1488 immediately!

Theft is a very serious crime in California. Depending on whether you are charged with petty theft or grand theft, a conviction could mean a $10,000 fine and spending the next 3 years in a California state prison. In addition to criminal penalties, even a petty theft conviction could result in serious immigration consequences if you are not a U.S. citizen, such as being denied citizenship or deportation.

Therefore, if you or a loved one has been charged with theft in Los Angeles, having an experienced and aggressive Los Angeles theft attorney fighting for you may mean the difference between freedom and prison. At CDI, [our team of theft attorneys/our founder, Chad Lewin have/has] over (inter # of years) of experience successfully defending clients from theft charges. If, after reading our comprehensive analysis of California theft laws below, you have questions or would like to speak to a Los Angeles theft attorney, call attorney Chad Lewin/the attorneys at CDI immediately for a FREE, CONFIDENTIAL consultation at (888) 546-5394. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help you.

California Grand Theft Laws Examined

In California, all thefts are characterized in one of two ways, either as petty theft or grand theft. Petty theft is the lesser crime and typically results in a misdemeanor charge. The more serious charge, grand theft, can lead to a felony charge. Whether you are charged with petty theft or grand theft depends on the value and type of property you are accused of stealing. Under Penal Code Section 487 PC, grand theft is any theft where the value of the property stolen exceeds $950. However, the Penal Code also takes into account the type of property stolen, which can affect how the offense is charged. For example, if the property stolen is a firearm, an automobile, or is taken from the person of another, the offense will be charged as grand theft, even if the property’s value is $950 or less.

How are California Grand Theft Charges Prosecuted (487 PC)?

In order to convict you of grand theft, the prosecution must establish each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The elements of grand theft will depend on which of the four types of theft crimes (theft by larceny, theft by false pretense, theft by trick, and theft by embezzlement) the prosecution alleges you to have committed.

  1. Grand Theft by Larceny

    One version of grand theft is “theft by larceny.” Despite the value requirement, grand theft by larceny can even occur as a result of a simple shoplifting arrest, especially if the store carries high-end expensive items.

    Under California Penal Code Section 484 PC, in order to convict you of theft by larceny, the prosecution must establish the following elements:

    1. You took possession of property owned by someone else;
    2. You took the property without the owner’s consent;
    3. At the time you took the property, you intended either
      1. to deprive the owner of it permanently,or
      2. to remove it from the owner’s possession for such a period of time that the owner would be deprived of a major portion of the value or enjoyment of the property;AND
    4. You moved the property, even a small distance, and kept it for any period of time, however brief.

    Example: Channing and Jenna are high school sweethearts. A few days before the senior prom, Channing breaks up with Jenna.

    Extremely upset, Jenna wants to get back at Channing. One day, when Channing is not home, Jenna goes to his house to retrieve some her makeup and jewelry that she left in Channing’s room.

    Channing’s mom lets Jenna in and, while retrieving her things, Jenna sees Channing’s laptop worth $980, which she knows is filed with his favorite music. Jenna takes the laptop and sneaks it out of the house in a box with her belongings. Jenna does not intend to keep the laptop forever, but just long enough for Channing to really miss it.

    Six months later, Channing and Jenna get back together. Regretting what she did, Jenna tries to sneak the laptop back into his room, when Channing catches her and calls the police.

    Jenna is likely still liable for grand theft by larceny, despite lacking the intent to permanently deprive Channing of the laptop, since she deprived Channing of the use and enjoyment of his laptop for six months.

    Note: Jenna is not liable for taking her makeup and jewelry from Channing’s room, since she was the rightful owner of that property. (See defenses below).

    Compare with:

    Example: Same example as above, except that, instead of keeping Channing’s laptop for six months, Jenna intends to and does return the laptop the very next day, about 24 hours later.

    Jenna is not liable for grand theft left by larceny, since she did not intend to deprive Channing of the laptop for a long enough time to affect a major portion of his use or enjoyment of it.

  2. Grand Theft by False Pretense (Penal Code Section 532 PC)

    “Theft by false pretense” or theft by fraud can be another form of grand theft. Theft by “false pretense” occurs when the defendant uses a “false pretense” (intentionally misrepresenting a past or existing fact) to convince the property owner to give possession and title of the property to the defendant.

    Under California Penal Code Section 532 PC, in order to convict you of theft by false pretense, the prosecution must establish the following elements:

    1. You knowingly and intentionally deceived a property owner by a false representation or pretense (in other words, telling a lie);
    2. You did so intending to persuade the owner to let you take possession and ownership of the property; AND
    3. The owner let you take possession and ownership of the property because they relied on your false representation or pretense.

    Example: Anthony is an accountant. He convinces one of his wealthy clients, Richard, to give him his yacht by falsely convincing him that transferring the yacht’s title will result in a tax benefit to Richard.

    Anthony is likely guilty of grand theft by false pretense. The false pretense being the false representation that transferring possession and title of the yacht to Anthony would result in a tax benefit to Richard, which Anthony knew was not true.

    Compare with Theft by Larceny

    The main difference between theft by larceny and theft by false pretense is the element of consent. Unlike theft by larceny, in theft by false pretense, the owner of the property gives the defendant his/her consent to take the property, yet the defendant obtains that consent by fraud.

  3. Grand Theft by Trick

    “Theft by trick” can be another form of grand theft and is very similar to theft by false pretense. Yet, the main difference between the two is that, in theft by trick, the owner of the property only gives the defendant possession of the property, but does not transfer ownership or title.

    Under California Penal Code Section 484 PC, in order to convict you of theft by trick, the prosecution must establish the following elements:

    1. You took possession of property owned by someone else;
    2. The property owner consented to your possession of the property because you used fraud or deceit;
    3. When you obtained the property, you intended either
      1. to deprive the owner of it permanently,or
      2. to remove it from the owner’s possession for such a period of time that the owner would be deprived of a major portion of the value or enjoyment of the property;
    4. You kept the property for any length of time; AND
    5. The owner did not intend to transfer ownership of the property to you.

    Example: Anthony is an accountant. He convinces one of his wealthy clients, Richard, to let him borrow his yacht just for his birthday party that night by falsely promising to return it, although he does not intend to do so. Two days later, he changes his mind and returns the yacht to Richard.

    Anthony is likely guilty of grand theft by trick, since he obtained possession of Richard’s yacht by misrepresenting his intent to return it. Despite having a change of heart and returning the yacht to Richard, Anthony is likely still guilty of grand theft by trick because at the time he took possession of the yacht, he intended to deprive Richard of the yacht permanently. Once Anthony fulfilled all the requirements of theft by trick, his subsequent repentance could not exonerate him.

    Compare with Theft by False Pretense:

    Note that, in the above example, Anthony is not guilty of theft by false pretense because he never obtained title to the yacht, only possession.

  4. Grand Theft by Embezzlement

    “Theft by embezzlement” can be yet another form of grand theft. The main difference between theft by embezzlement and the other types of theft, discussed above, is that, in theft by embezzlement, the defendant begins with lawful possession of the property, but then fraudulently takes or uses that property for his/her own benefit.

    Under California Penal Code Section 484 PC, in order to convict you of theft by embezzlement, the prosecution must establish the following elements:

    1. An owner of property entrusted his/her property to you;
    2. The property owner did so because he/she trusted you;
    3. You fraudulently converted/used that property for your own benefit; AND
    4. When you converted/used the property, you intended to deprive the owner of the property or its use.

    Example: Steve is the manager of a clothing store. At the end of the night, after counting all the money taken in that day, Steve notices that there is $1,000 more than there should be. Steve pockets the extra cash, figuring no one would notice.

    Steve is likely guilty of grand theft by embezzlement. This is because, as manager, he was in a position of trust with regard to the clothing store and took the money for his own use, depriving the small business of the ability to use those funds.

Defenses to California Grand Theft

Successfully defending a grand theft charge will depend on the specific facts and circumstances of your case, as well as whether you have a first-rate California theft crimes attorney in your corner. At CDI, our unshakable commitment to putting the interests of our clients first, coupled with our strong work ethic and commitment to leaving no stone unturned has resulted in countless acquittals, dismissals, and reduced charges for our clients. The following are but a few of the possible defenses our attorneys can utilize to win your case.

  1. You were falsely accused
  2. Unfortunately, sometimes innocent people are wrongfully accused of committing crimes. If you were wrongfully accused of grand theft, the attorneys at CDI will do everything they can, usually by conducting a diligent and comprehensive investigation, to gather the evidence necessary to clear your name.

    Example: Dan is Stephanie’s supervisor. For the past few months, Dan and Stephanie have been engaging in a sexual relationship at work. One day, Stephanie has a change of heart and tells Dan she wants to end the relationship because she feels it’s inappropriate. Dan, upset, wants a reason to fire Stephanie, so he takes a computer from the office worth $2,000, calls the police, and claims he witnessed Stephanie committing the theft. Stephanie is charged with grand theft.

    Stephanie should not be held liable for grand theft, but she needs an experienced and aggressive attorney to uncover Dan’s plot, present it to the court, and get the charges dismissed or obtain an acquittal.

  3. The owner of the property gave you their consent to take the property
  4. If the owner of the property gave you his/her consent to take the property, as long as that consent was not obtained by false pretense or fraud (see above), you cannot be held liable for grand theft.

    Example: Same example as above, except that, while Dan and Stephanie are engaged in their sexual relationship, Stephanie tells Dan how her son’s computer just broke and that she can’t afford to buy him a new one for school. Dan, feeling bad for her, offers to let Stephanie borrow one of the extra computers in the office, which she does. Later, Stephanie has a change of heart and tells Dan she wants to end the relationship because she feels it’s inappropriate. Dan, upset, wants a reason to fire Stephanie, so he calls the police and claims Stephanie stole the computer, which was worth $2,000. Stephanie is charged with grand theft.

    Stephanie should not be held liable for grand theft, since she had Dan’s consent to take the computer home. Additionally, she did not obtain his consent by false pretense or fraud.

  5. You lacked the intent to steal
  6. The California Jury Instructions require the prosecution to prove that you had the intent to steal the property. Therefore, if you lacked the intent to steal, maybe because you were distracted and did not realize you forgot to pay for an item, you cannot be found liable for grand theft.

  7. You believed that the property really belonged to you/you were the rightful owner of the property (AKA “the claim of right defense”)
  8. If the property you are accused of stealing actually belonged to you or you honestly, but mistakenly, believed that the property belonged to you, you cannot be held liable for grand theft. This goes back to the burden on the prosecutor to prove your intent to steal. If the property really belonged to you or you thought it did, you cannot have had the intent to steal it.

    Example: Kevin is at a bar trying to order a drink. Once he gets the bartender’s attention, he sets his gold watch down beside him. At the same time, another patron, Vlad, sets his identical gold watch worth $1,800 down right next to Kevin’s. After getting his drink, Kevin accidently takes Vlad’s watch, which he mistakenly believes is his. Kevin cannot be held liable for grand theft, since he had an honest belief that Vlad’s watch belonged to him.

Penalties for California Grand Theft

Under California law, a violation of Penal Code Section 487 PC, grand theft, is what is known as a “wobbler.” A wobbler is an offense that the prosecutor may charge as a felony or a misdemeanor. That decision usually depends on the type and value of the property stolen and the defendant’s criminal history.

If convicted of California misdemeanor grand theft, you face any or all of the following:

  • Informal probation
  • Up to 1 year in county jail
  • A fine up to $1,000

If convicted of California felony grand theft, you face any or all of the following:

  • Formal probation
  • Up to 3 years in county jail
  • A fine up to $10,000

Penalties for California Grand Theft Firearm

The penalties for grand theft where the property stolen was a firearm (grand theft firearm) are more severe than the penalties for a “run of the mill” grand theft listed above.

For example, grand theft firearm is not a wobbler and, therefore, can only be charged as a felony. There is no misdemeanor charge for this offense.

Additionally, if convicted, you face up to 3 years in a California State Penitentiary.

Most importantly, grand theft firearm has the special distinction of being what is called a “serious felony” under Penal Code Section 1192.7(c) PC. Therefore, if you are convicted of grand theft firearm, you will receive a strike on your record, which has severe consequences under California’s three strikes law.

Grand Theft Enhancements

If you are charged with felony grand theft, you can receive an additional prison term to the penalties listed above, if the amount you stole was very high.

The possible sentence enhancements are an additional:

  • 1 year if the property was worth more than $65,000,
  • 2 years if the property was worth more than $200,000,
  • 3 years if the property was worth more than $1,300,000, and
  • 4 years if the property was worth more than $3,200,000

Related Offenses

Petty Theft (Penal Code Section 484(a) PC)

The definition of petty theft and grand theft are very similar and, in both, the prosecution must show either theft by larceny, theft by false pretense, theft by trick, or theft by embezzlement. (See above).

The difference is that, under Penal Code Sections 484(a) PC and 488 PC, petty theft is any theft where the value of the property stolen is $950 or less and the property is not of a special type that would automatically trigger grand theft charges. (See above).

If convicted of California petty theft, you face any or all of the following:

  • Informal probation
  • Up to 6 months in county jail
  • A fine up to $1,000

Petty Theft with a prior (Penal Code Section 666 PC)

Under certain circumstances, a petty theft charge can go from a relatively minor criminal offense to a possible felony conviction and serious prison time.

Under California Penal Code Section 666 PC, in order for your petty theft charge to become more serious and carry increased penalties, the prosecution must establish the following:

  1. You have been previously convicted of and served time for one of the following theft crimes: petty theft, grand theft, grand theft auto, burglary, carjacking, robbery, or felony receiving stolen property; AND your prior theft conviction was a result of stealing from an elderly person under California’s elder abuse law; OR
  2. You have been previously convicted of and served time for one of the following theft crimes: petty theft, grand theft, grand theft auto, burglary, carjacking, robbery, or felony receiving stolen property; AND EITHER:
    1. You have a prior sex crime conviction that required you to register as a sex offender under Penal Code Section 290 PC; OR
    2. You have a previous serious felony conviction under Penal Code 667(e)(2)(C), such as murder, attempted murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, forcible sex crimes, or sex crimes against children under 14.

If the prosecutor can prove you meet these requirements, your petty theft charge becomes a “wobbler”, which means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony. This decision is made by the prosecutor and is usually based on the specific facts of the case and your criminal history.

If convicted of California “petty theft with a prior”, you face the following:

  • Up to 1 year of county jail (if charged as a misdemeanor); OR
  • Up to 3 years in a California State Penitentiary (if charged as a felony)

Burglary (Penal Code Section 459 PC)

Burglary is also called "breaking and entering." It refers to entering a home or building to commit a felony, such as robbery. In California, burglary is a three strikes offense.

For more information, please see our page on Burglary.

Grand Theft Auto (Penal Code Section 487(d)(1) PC)

Grand theft auto is a type of grand theft where the property stolen is an automobile, regardless of the value of the vehicle. Even if the vehicle stolen is worth $500, you will still be charged with grand theft, not petty theft.

Generally, grand theft auto is charged as a felony, but the prosecutor does have the discretion to charge it as a misdemeanor.

If convicted of felony grand theft auto, you could face up to 3 years in county jail. You could also face additional time, if the value of the car stolen is very high. (See Grand Theft Enhancements above).

For more information, please see our page on Grand Theft Auto.

Carjacking (Penal Code Section 215 PC)

Carjacking is the violent theft of a vehicle. When someone uses force or scares a driver with implying violence, the accused person will face felony charges. Carjacking is a completely different crime than grand theft auto because it involves taking the car directly from another person.

Robbery (Penal Code Section 211 PC)

Probably the most common form of theft is robbery. This crime is charged when someone is accused of stealing property directly from a person, or from their immediate possession. For a robbery charge to be handed down, the alleged theft needs to be committed through force or a threat of force. This is a felony offense.

For more information, please see our page on Robbery.

Contact a Theft Crimes Attorney at Criminal Defense Incorporated

Our Los Angeles theft crimes defense attorneys have a long track record of success in theft cases. Without an experienced and aggressive attorney fighting for you, your conviction could result in the loss of your freedom and the destruction of your future. If you've been charged with theft in California, time is of the essence! Every minute you wait matters, so call attorney Chad Lewin at CDI immediately for a FREE, CONFIDENTIAL consultation at (888) 546-5394. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help you or your loved ones.


  1. Penal Code 489 PC – Grand theft– punishment.
  2. Penal Code 487 PC – Grand theft.
  3. Id.
  4. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (“CALCRIM”) 1800 – Theft by Larceny (Pen. Code, § 484).
  5. Based on People v. Davis, (1998) 19 Cal.4th 301, 307.
  6. CALCRIM 1804 – Theft [including grand theft] by False Pretense (Pen. Code § 484).
  7. CALCRIM 1805 – Theft [including grand theft] by trick (Pen. Code, § 484).
  8. CALCRIM 1806 – Theft [including grand theft] by Embezzlement (Pen. Code, §§ 484, 503).
  9. CALCRIM 1800 – Theft by Larceny.
  10. Id.
  11. People v. Tufunga, (1999) 21 Cal.4th 935.
  12. Penal Code 489 PC - Grand theft; punishment.
  13. Id.
  14. Id.
  15. Id.
  16. Id.
  17. Penal Code 1192.7(c) PC
  18. Id.
  19. Penal Code 484 (a) PC and Penal Code 488 – Petty Theft.
  20. Penal Code 490 PC – Petty theft; punishment.
  21. Penal Code 666 PC – Petty theft with a prior.
  22. Id.
  23. Id.
  24. Id.


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