Theft in California is frequently divided into categories of grand theft and petty theft. This distinction is often made by the value of items that are stolen. Whether a person is charged with petty or grand theft is important because punishments for grand theft are often more severe. Sometimes exactly what kind of item is stolen dictates whether a prosecutor will levy a charge of grand or petty theft.

As explained by FindLaw, the state is likely to charge someone with grand theft if the value of the stolen property is greater than $950, although grand theft can take place is someone steals farm crops or livestock that is valued at above $250. Grand theft also occurs when a person robs a person directly, taking property that the person is carrying or wearing. Stealing property such as firearms and automobiles is also automatically considered an act of grand theft.

Punishments for petty theft are generally more lenient than grand theft. Penalties may include incarceration for up to six months and/or a fine no greater than $1,000. If the stolen property possesses value that is small enough, such as below $50, the charge may be reduced to a misdemeanor and a smaller fine of no more than $250. Grand theft, by contrast, can result in a year of time in a county jail, or more severely, jail time up to three years and imprisonment in state prison.

Additionally, previous criminal convictions can add to both petty theft and grand theft penalties. A prosecutor who would ordinarily recommend a small fine and no jail time might instead pursue a jail sentence for petty theft if the person charged had been convicted of petty theft prior. Previous criminal convictions can also escalate punishments for grand theft, including requiring a person to serve a sentence in state prison rather than in a county jail.

The degree of theft is an important component of a theft defense case. If the property is established to possess a low value, the theft charge should be a petty theft charge, which will lower the severity of jail time and/or fees. Theft cases will differ, so only read this article for educational benefit and not as legal advice for your situation.