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When does theft become a felony in California?

On Behalf of | Dec 4, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

If you are accused of theft in California, your charge could be treated as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. The crime of theft is the unlawful taking of another person’s property without their consent. You must also intend to permanently deprive the person of the property.

The property’s value

One of the main factors determining if the theft charge is a misdemeanor or felony is the value of the property taken. California law states that when the stolen property has a value greater than $950, the theft charge becomes a felony.

When the property has a value less than $950, your charge is likely to be petty theft and charged as a misdemeanor. A felony charge when the property is over $950 is referred to as grand theft and comes with much more serious penalties, including a possible prison sentence.

The type of property

Sometimes the type of property determines the level of the charge. Vehicles, firearms and some farm animals are examples of property that if stolen automatically results in a felony grand theft charge.

Additional factors that could bump a theft charge up from a misdemeanor to a felony include your prior criminal record and the specific facts of the crime. For example, if the theft involved taking money directly from another person, such as wage theft, you could be charged with grand theft.

‘Wobbler’ crimes

However, theft is considered a “wobbler” crime in California. This means that the prosecution can choose to charge you with a misdemeanor even if there are grounds to charge a felony, such as if the property’s value exceeds $950.

Whatever level of theft you are charged with, it is important to act quickly, know your rights and develop a solid defense strategy. There are several possible defenses to a theft charge.

Intent is one of the elements the prosecutors must prove to convict you of theft. They must prove that you intended to permanently deprive the victim of the property, rather than just borrowing it or believing that the person gave it to you. This is just one example of a potential defense against a theft crime.