Petty Theft

San Diego Petty Theft Attorney

Petty theft is not a felony, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t serious. If you are charged with petty theft, you face spending six months in jail and paying a hefty fine. In the eyes of the San Diego District Attorney’s office, petty theft crimes like shoplifting are serious. You need an attorney on your side who takes the charge just as seriously.

A criminal defense attorney can work to keep you out of jail. At the Law Offices of Stephen Cline, our attorneys have been defending criminal cases in San Diego for 20 years. Attorney Stephen Cline has handled everything from murder cases to petty theft. He takes every charge seriously, and so should you.

Call Stephen Cline today to get a criminal defense attorney working on your theft case.

Penal Code 484 — What is Petty Theft?

Petty theft or “larceny” in California is a misdemeanor that you can be charged with if you steal something worth less than $950.

It is important to note that petty theft only applies to items taken without the use of force. Taking anything of any value by force – or even with the threat of force – may be considered robbery, which is a much more serious charge.

Petty theft is punishable by six months in the county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. It also means a misdemeanor conviction will go down on your record.

Penal Code 459.5 – Shoplifting

One of the most common forms of theft is shoplifting. Shoplifting carries the same penalties as petty theft, but is covered under a different statute – 459.5 PC. The law applies when an item worth $950 or less is taken from a commercial establishment during business hours.

Penal Code 666 — Petty Theft With a Prior Conviction

Petty theft is typically thought of as a minor crime, but there are circumstances in which prosecutors can charge someone with a felony for petty theft.

“Petty theft with a prior,” as it is commonly called, may apply if the defendant has previously spent time in jail or prison for certain other theft-related crimes.

In addition to this prior theft conviction, a defendant must have either a) have a conviction for certain violent felonies on his or her criminal record, b) be a registered sex offender, or c) have a conviction for theft or fraud involving an elderly victim.

Depending on the circumstances, petty theft with a prior can be charged as a felony, even if the most recent charge involved a minor theft.

In order to convict you, prosecutors must prove that this law is applicable. A good defense attorney may be able to successfully contest their claims. It’s important that you hire a petty theft attorney in San Diego as soon as possible if you’ve been charged with petty theft or any other theft-related offense, whether you have a prior or not.

Theft By False Pretenses

In California, theft may be charged even if the owner willingly gave you the item you’re accused of stealing. If you lie or make a false promise to entice someone to give you the item, you can be charged with what is called theft by false pretenses. This is misdemeanor petty theft or felony grand theft, depending on the value of the items or items taken. If it’s an automobile or a gun, the crime is always a felony.

Prosecutors must prove that you knowingly and intentionally deceived the victim. The best defense to this charge is to show that you had no intentions of deceiving the person. You should speak with a theft attorney if you are facing this charge.

Examples of Petty Theft

Here are some examples of petty theft or similar charges as described above:

  • You take $50 from the cash register at your job.
  • You hide a piece of clothing under your shirt and leave the store without paying.
  • While at a party, you take someone’s cell phone when they aren’t looking.
  • You borrow a guitar from an acquaintance and do not intend to return it.

It’s important to note that the item taken doesn’t have to be physical. For example, if you hire someone to do a task for you and promise to pay them when it’s done but have no intentions of actually doing so, that can be considered theft.


California law defines embezzlement as when you are entrusted with someone else’s money or property, but you then use it to your own benefit. For example, if you are in charge of an elderly relative’s finances and are using their credit cards without their knowledge, that is embezzlement.

Embezzlement can amount to petty theft or grand theft, depending on the value in question. Embezzling public money is a felony.

Defenses to a Petty Theft Charge

Even seemingly minor crimes like petty theft deserve a vigorous defense.

Some cases of shoplifting are due to a genuine mistake – like accidentally lumping an item you didn’t pay for with the ones you did as you leave the store. The law requires that the property be taken intentionally. If your defense attorney can prove it was an accident, then there is no crime to prosecute because no crime occurred.

Additionally, your lawyer may be able to show that you reasonably believed you had consent from the owner to take the item.

Here’s what Stephen Cline does when he defends a petty theft charge: First, he tries to have the charge dismissed outright. He knows the most effective arguments to make from the start to diminish the prosecution’s case.

If the charge remains, we will seek to have it dismissed. Petty theft is a misdemeanor, but we may be able to have it reduced to a non-criminal violation. That means you will pay a fine, but you won’t risk jail time and no conviction will go on your record. This is important, because a criminal conviction can haunt you long after you’ve served your punishment. It could be used to deny you a job.

Stephen Cline knows how to negotiate plea deals that benefit his clients. Of course, any plea deal must be approved by the client.

Lastly, we’ll take any case to trial if necessary. Stephen Cline is an experienced trial attorney.

The Difference Between Petty Theft and Grand Theft

Petty theft: Misdemeanor

Grand theft: Felony or misdemeanor

Petty theft: Item must cost less than $950

Grand theft: Item must cost more than $950

Petty theft: Punishable by six months in the county jail

Grand theft: Punishable by up to three years in state prison

Theft charges only apply when an item is taken without the use of force. This could mean swiping a cell phone off a table or stealing a TV during a break-in. If the item is taken from the person with force or the threat of force, it may be robbery, which is a serious violent felony.

Various Theft Charges

Get a Petty Theft Attorney Today

Every person charged with a crime in San Diego, whether a felony or a misdemeanor, deserves an advocate on their side. If you are charged with petty theft, it is in your best interest to hire a private criminal defense attorney to take your case. Even if you qualify for a public defender, you should consider hiring a private attorney who isn’t burdened by a huge caseload.

Stephen Cline has been defending criminal cases in San Diego for 20 years. He’s gotten charges dropped. He’s gotten them reduced. He has negotiated plea deals that favor his client. He’s won acquittals at trial. He knows how to defend charges like petty theft.

Call Stephen Cline today at (619) 235-5638 so you can get your defense rolling. You don’t want to delay.