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What Are the Best Defenses for Grand Theft Charges?

Posted by Sam Israels | Jun 18, 2022

California Penal Code 487 PC describes the crime of grand theft as unlawfully taking someone's property valued at $950 or more. This theft offense is a “wobbler” that can be filed as a misdemeanor or felony.

If the property has a value of under $950, then a misdemeanor charge of Penal Code 484 PC petty theft can be filed. In California, theft offenses are some of the most common cases filed by prosecutors and also called larceny.

California Penal Code 487 PC - Grand Theft

Criminal charges of grand theft usually involve some stealing. For example, shoplifting high-value items from a store in the mall or stealing a vehicle is known as “grand theft auto.”  Penal Code 487 PC legally defines this serious type of theft crime as follows:

  • “Grand theft is theft committed when the money, labor, or real or personal property taken exceeds $950.”

There are several different ways to commit a grand theft offense depending on the type of charge, such as by:

  • larceny,
  • false pretense,
  • trick,
  • embezzlement.

To be found guilty of PC 487 grand theft, a prosecutor has to prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, several crucial factors that are called the “elements of the crime.”  These factors are listed under California Criminal Jury Instructions 1801. Our California criminal defense lawyers will examine this topic in more detail below.

What Type of Property Can Grand Theft Charges Apply?

Grand theft is defined as stealing money, labor, or real or personal property. Thus, there is a broad range of items that would fall under the umbrella of grand theft, such as the following:

  • cash,
  • motor vehicle,
  • jewelry,
  • furniture,
  • home appliances,
  • farm equipment,
  • home furnishings,
  • electronics,
  • television,
  • laptop,
  • clothes and cosmetics.

Again, the total value of the property taken must be $950 or greater. Some subsections of Penal Code 487 list unique forms of property, including fixtures that were stripped from land or buildings, cargo, copper cables, all-terrain vehicles, livestock, and dogs.

What is the Difference Between Grand Theft and Petty Theft?

As noted, the primary difference between the separate offenses is related to the value of the stolen property. California Penal Code 486 PC divides theft crimes into petty theft and grand theft.

Simply put, Penal Code 487 grand theft will charge apply in a situation when the stolen property's value is more than $950.

Penal Code 487(d)(1) PC – grand theft auto

Grand theft included stealing certain types of property valued under $950, but California voter initiatives in 2014 and 2016 amended Penal Code 490.2 to require values over $950 for any grand theft conviction. Before the passage of Proposition 47, you could still face grand theft charges under certain circumstances, such as:

  • theft of a firearm valued at less than $950;
  • theft of a motor vehicle;
  • grand theft conviction for defendants with certain prior convictions,
  • other types of particular property valued under $950.

The penalties for grand theft still apply to taking certain types of property, regardless of value, and if the defendant has prior convictions for certain types of serious crimes, such as the following:

  • any sex crime convictions that require the defendant to register as a sex offender under California Penal Code 290 PC, or
  • certain serious felony convictions, such as PC 261 rape, child molestation, violent crimes, or Penal Code 187 PC murder.

What Are the Penalties for a PC 487 Conviction?

The difference between grand theft and petty theft is essential due to the potential penalties after a conviction.

Penalties for a Grand Theft Conviction

As noted, Penal Code 487 PC grand theft is a “wobbler” that can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the details of the case and the defendant's record. A misdemeanor grand theft conviction will carry:

  • up to one year in county jail,
  • a fine up to $1,000,
  • summary probation.

A felony grand theft conviction will carry the following penalties:

  • 16 months, 2 or 3 years in jail,
  • A fine of up $5,000,
  • Formal felony probation.

If the grand theft conviction involves stealing a firearm, the felony penalty will increase to three years in jail. Further, a penalty enhancement will apply for property theft with a value greater than $65,000.  The felony conviction could also count as a “strike” under California's three-strikes law.

What Are the Related Crimes?

  • Penal Code 484 PC – petty theft,
  • Penal Code 666 PC – petty theft with prior,
  • Penal Code 487(d)(1) PC – grand theft auto,
  • Penal Code 459 PC – burglary,
  • Penal Code 211 PC – robbery.

How Can You Fight PC 487 Grand Theft Charges?

Our goal in challenging grand theft charges is to create reasonable doubt about the prosecution's evidence on one or more elements of the crime. Grand theft includes taking someone's property by false pretenses, trick, or embezzlement.

California's grand theft crime typically involves intentionally taking away another person's property worth more than $950 without consent, intent to deprive the owner of its value.  Some common defenses to fight the charges include:

  • you didn't take or carry away the property;
  • you owned or otherwise had a claim of right to the property;
  • you had the owner's consent to take the property or reasonably believed in that consent;
  • you returned or had intent to return the property before substantial deprivation of its use; or
  • you are the victim of mistaken identity and wrongful arrest.

Perhaps we can raise reasonable doubt over whether theft occurred or whether you had the necessary criminal intent.

Best Defenses for PC 487 Grand Theft Charges

Police misconduct in the search for theft evidence or your subsequent interrogation might require the court to suppress incriminating evidence.

Our experienced legal team has the skill, experience, and commitment to defend and obtain the best possible outcome.  

Perhaps we can negotiate with the prosecutor for reduced charges or case dismissal. Through prefiling intervention, we might be able to avoid the formal filing of criminal charges in the first place.

Cron, Israels & Stark is located in Los Angeles County, and we offer a free case review by phone or by filling out the contact form.

About the Author

Sam Israels

Sam J. Israels is a Law Firm partner with the Law Offices of Cron, Israels, & Stark. Mr. Israels received his J.D. degree from the Santa Clara University School of Law. Mr. Israels also previously worked at the Los Angeles Office of the City Attorney. He is admitted to practice law in the State o...

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