If you take another person’s property without permission, you are likely to be accused of theft. Theft crimes are mainly punished depending on the value of the allegedly stolen item. If the item has a value below $950, you will generally face petty theft charges. Otherwise, you will face Penal Code 487 grand theft charges, which carry significant punishments. Get in touch with us at the Orange County Criminal Lawyer if you are facing grand theft charges so that we can review your case and start preparing a suitable defense strategy.

Defining Grand Theft

Penal Code 487 generally provides that any theft crime where the allegedly stolen property exceeds $950 is grand theft. Grand theft is best explained using its elements or facts that must be established. For the state to get you convicted of this offense, they must prove all the elements or facts of the crime to be true according to the law. If this is not achieved and doubt remains in jurors’ minds, you will likely have dropped charges.

Various offenses exist under grand theft that you can be charged with, and their elements differ as well. Regardless, for each type of offense, the elements must be determined for a conviction to be arrived at. Some crimes under grand theft include:

Grand Theft – Larceny

When you physically take an item not belonging to you and move it from where it was to a different place without the owner’s consent or knowledge, you are guilty of theft. The crime is defined according to various elements that must be determined. The prosecutor must show that you are guilty of larceny if:

  • You took something or property not belonging to you.

  • You did this without the owner’s knowledge or permission.

  • The intentions you had when you obtained the item or property was:

  1. Denying or depriving the item’s owner of its use entirely or

  2. To keep the object or item away from the owner for a long time, denying them the joy of enjoying it substantially.

  3. Removing the property or item from its current location and keep it at the new place where the owner doesn’t know

Some seemingly less severe crimes have been charged as grand theft larceny. This is common when the item that is taken is valued above $950. A few celebrities have been exposed for committing this offense when they shoplift valuable items from various stores. This has created awareness that a shoplifting offense can also become a grand theft offense, which carries steeper penalties.

Grand Theft – False Pretense

If you use pretense to obtain something that doesn’t belong to you, you can be charged with grand theft. The law under PEN 532 makes it a crime to deceive others and get services or goods from them. The statute further defines using false pretense in grand theft as when:

  • You knowingly and purposely lie to another to deceive them, or you falsely pretend.

  • With the lies, you intended to persuade the individual into allowing you to own or possess their property or things and

  • Your victim trusted your lies and let you access and possession of the property or items.

False pretense is not always an easy concept to comprehend. However, the law states you commit grand theft through fraudulent misrepresentation or deception when:

  • You purposely plan to deceive your victim and

  • You carry out the following things:

· You tell the victim things you know are lies or based on falsehoods

· You recklessly claim that something is real when you have no substantial facts

· You intentionally fail to provide details you are obliged to present

· You make false promises knowing you don’t plan to keep them

Reliance in Grand Theft by False Pretense

If you are charged with grand theft by using deception or false pretense, your alleged victim must have given you their property. The reason they handed it over was that they depended on your lies to do it. According to this, the primary reason you have the item or property with you is that the owner depended on your lies to release it. But, it is crucial to understand that there are often other reasons the crime is committed.

Evidence in Grand Theft – False Pretense

When you face grand theft charges by using false pretense, the state must present unique evidence to get a conviction. If the prosecutor can prove any of the elements below, you can be punished for the offense:

  • Presenting a falsified or forged document in written form. This is typically a fake document to show that you deceived the victim to obtain their property. The record, in some cases, would be a fake check or contract.

  • A written document either handwritten by you or printed but bearing your signature.

  • Presentation of not less than two witnesses that would give a testimony of your deception

  • A single witness willing to testify of your fraud together with submission of other forms of evidence

A commonly asked question is why there is a need for such requirements in proving grand theft by false pretense. The significant reason for this requirement is because many people engage in business deals that require using or controlling another person’s property. During the transactions or dealings, the property owner can change their mind and accuse you of obtaining their property through deception. This helps protect innocent individuals against false allegations that can get them wrongly convicted for crimes they never committed.

Using Tricks to Commit Grand Theft Crime

You can get charged with grand theft by use of tricks if any of the following happened:

  • You acquired the other person’s property, knowing that it belonged to them.

  • Despite the knowledge, you deceived or defrauded the owner to allow you to have the property.

  • Your intentions when you obtained the property was to:

· Deprive the owner of its use permanently or

· Take it and deprive the owner of its joy for a significant time

In this case, you intentionally kept the property or item from its owner over a significant period, and the owner never intended to give you ownership of the property.

Committing the crime of grand theft using tricks is slightly similar to grand theft by false pretense. However, there is one substantial difference between the two crimes. In grand theft by the method of a false claim, the victim transfers ownership or possession of the property or item to you. On the other hand, grand theft by the use of tricks is when the victim allows you to use the property or possess it but does not plan to give it to you to own.

Grand Theft – Embezzlement

Embezzlement, as a crime, can also be prosecuted as a grand theft crime in California. For the court to convict you of the offense, the state must prove the various elements defining the offense. The elements needed to be established for a conviction include:

  • The property owner trusted you with the particular item or property

  • The owner put you in a position of trust for the specific property

  • You fraudulently kept or used the property for personal and selfish gains

  • You intended to deny the owner the joy of their property forever or for a period. According to this, even if you planned to return the property to the owner after some time, you are still guilty of grand theft

The prosecutor can charge you with any of the above forms of grand theft. The court is not expected to decide on the particular crime that you should be charged with. However, their role is to agree if you are guilty of the crime or not. If they agree you stole another person’s property, you will get convicted on any of the grand theft charges leveled against you.

However, the law expects the jury to unanimously agree if you violated PEN 488, petty theft or PEN 487, grand theft. In some cases, a unanimous agreement that you committed grand theft may not be reached. But, they may agree that you stole. You can get convicted of a lesser offense, which is petty theft, and less harsh penalties in such a case.

Differentiating Grand Theft and Petty Theft

Grand theft, according to PEN 487, is defined in the same way as petty theft in California. Despite the similarities in their definition, the differentiating factor is in the monetary value given to the property taken.

According to the law, if the item taken is valued above $950, the offense is grand theft. However, sometimes this is not the case. Previously, you would get prosecuted on grand theft charges even when the property’s value was less than $950. The passing of Prop 47 in November 2014 changed all that. Before this, you would face grand theft charges even when the property value was below $950. This only happened if:

  • A firearm was included in the items you are accused of stealing

  • A vehicle was part of the stolen property

  • The property you stole included specific animals like a horse, pig or ship

  • The stolen items were directly taken from the owner when they were on their body or contained in something they carried

Despite the passing of Prop 47, if you committed theft that involved any of the above even when the value was below $950, you receive grand theft penalties if convicted. This is mostly applicable to defendants with a criminal history or convictions crimes like:

  • A sex offense that required you to register as an offender

  • A violent or severe felony conviction like molesting a child, murder, rape, or sex crimes

If you stole a vehicle valued at more than $950, the offense is usually punished as a felony, which is grand theft auto. However, the offense can be reduced to a misdemeanor if the value of the vehicle is below $950.

Additionally, your employer can accuse you of grand theft in California. If you have, on several occasions, taken money, labor, or personal belongings from your boss amounting to over $950 in a year, you might be guilty of grand theft.

Penalties for Violating PEN 487 – Grand Theft Law

Grand theft is considered a wobbler in California. The state looks at your criminal background and the offense’s facts before deciding on the type of charge. The prosecutor is given the discretion to determine how to charge you upon studying your case and its aspects.

If you face misdemeanor charges for grand theft, a conviction will see you receive a one-year county jail sentence or less. Summary probation and a fine are also possible consequences when found guilty. Felony grand theft charges carry steeper penalties than those in a misdemeanor conviction. These penalties include:

  • Not more than a year in county prison in addition to formal probation or

  • A county jail sentence for sixteen months or two or three years. This sentence occurs only if no firearm was involved

Grand Theft Penalties when a Firearm is Stolen

When the offense you committed involved taking a firearm, it automatically becomes grand theft. The offense is a felony and gives no option for a misdemeanor charge. The punishment for this crime is harsher with the possibility of state prison incarceration for sixteen months or two or three years.

Stealing a firearm is one of the most serious forms of grand theft offenses, referred to as grand theft firearms, according to PEN 1192.7c. Apart from the penalties you face for this conviction, you will also earn a strike according to the three-strikes law.

Penalty Enhancements

Despite the penalties discussed earlier, when you are charged with a felony grand theft, you can have your sentence enhanced or increased. This is possible only when the taken property’s value is substantially high.

Some of the enhancements you may receive on your sentence include:

  • If you took or stole property valued at more than $65,000, you earn an extra year in jail served consecutively

  • When the value of the property you took is above $200,000, you receive a further sentence of two years

  • If the value of the property you took fraudulently is above $1,300,000, you earn another three years to your sentence

  • When the property value you took exceeds $3,200,000, you get sentenced to an additional four years in prison

Before the court issues you a sentence enhancement, it will add the value of all the property you are accused of stealing in one scheme. The total helps in determining the increase in the sentence you receive.

Multiple Counts of Grand Theft

Sometimes, you may be charged with committing multiple offenses in grand theft against one party. This is often possible if your employer accuses you. If this happens, the prosecutor can charge you with the multiple offenses in grand theft, and you receive sentencing for each offense if convicted. However, if the multiple offenses were part of the grand scheme of theft, then the crime is charged as one, and you get convicted of a single offense, not multiple ones.

For instance, you work for a distribution company in your city. During your work, you steal from your employer on various occasions. Your employer trusted you with money, but you took $1,000 and hoped you wouldn’t be found out. The second time, you receive a package addressed to your boss, and you look inside. On finding something you like, you take items worth $1,500 and lie they were not delivered. A third time, you see items on your boss’s desk and pick a few worth $1,200 without their consent.

When your boss notices, he reports the incident to the police. In this case, the state will charge you with three different counts of grand theft, and if convicted, you receive penalties for each count separately. However, when you hire a skilled attorney, you may formulate a strategy in your defense that exempts you from the three charges, and allows you to get prosecuted for a single offense.

In your defense, your lawyer can argue that your grand plan was to always steal from your boss anytime an opportunity arose. With this argument, it means all the incidents were geared towards your mega plan. This might allow you to face one charge on grand theft instead of three.

Legal Defenses for Grand Theft

Grand theft is a severe offense that earns you steep penalties if convicted. Getting a skilled attorney to represent you can earn you lesser penalties or even a dismissal of your charges. Your lawyer will study your case to come up with suitable defenses in your favor. Some commonly used defenses for this crime include:

You Lacked Intent

If you never intended to steal, you are innocent of grand theft. Your lawyer can persuade the jury or court that your offense was in error, and you never intended to take or steal the property. You may have been absent-minded as you were shopping and dropped a watch in your bag that has a significant value. You may also have been negligent in your job if you lost an item valued over $1,000 in the car and delivered the rest. Being careless or absent-minded is not proof of guilt.

Right of Possession

Sometimes, you may have a reason to believe that you had rights to the item or property you are accused of taking. If the reasons are substantial and had merit, you are innocent of grand theft. However, if you tried to conceal the property when you were discovered, this strategy cannot work in your defense. Equally, if the items you are accused of taking were unlawful, such as controlled substances, this defense will not work.


If the owner of the item was aware and allowed you to take it, you would not be guilty of grand theft. However, if the owner claims that you never used the property as permitted, to avoid a guilty verdict, you must show this to be untrue. This defense only works if you indicate that you used the said item or property as permitted by the owner.

False Allegations

Accusations based on falsehoods are common in criminal cases. A colleague at your workplace can frame you to cover their embezzlement or when they have a vendetta against you. False accusations have often led to convictions if not defended aggressively.

Other times, you may fall out with a business partner, and they go ahead and accuse you of grand theft by using deception. An experienced lawyer can unearth the malicious allegations and expose the truth to your advantage.

Grand Theft Related Offenses

An offense is said to be related if it can be charged instead of or with the underlying offense. Some of the related crimes to grand theft include:

PEN 666 – Petty Theft with History

When you have an existing record of theft, you will receive harsher penalties for the repeat offense of petty theft. The offense is considered a wobbler.

PEN 484 & 488 – Petty Theft

Earlier, we discussed the similarities in defining grand theft and petty theft. The significant differentiation of these crimes is found in the property value taken. When you face grand theft charges, your lawyer can persuade the prosecutor to charge you with petty theft instead. This is a lesser charge carrying lesser penalties and often used in grand theft plea deals.

PEN 487(d)(1) Grand Theft Auto

If the charges against you involved stealing a vehicle, you could face two consecutive charges of grand theft and grand theft auto. Violating PEN 487(d)(1) is a felony, and the penalties are steeper compared to standard grand theft offenses.

Find a Orange County Criminal Attorney Near Me

The consequences of a criminal conviction are severe in California. The legal repercussions and your professional and personal life are significantly affected by a conviction. Fortunately, an accusation doesn’t mean a sentence. With a skilled attorney, you can fight the allegations and get a favorable outcome. Our attorneys at Orange County Criminal Lawyer are experienced and passionate in offering excellent defense services for people who are facing theft crime charges like grand theft. Get in touch with us at 714-262-4833 for more information about your case.