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Theft Offenses



Theft offenses include, but are not limited to: Petty Theft/Shoplifting (PC § 484/488), Grand Theft (PC § 487), Identity Theft (PC § 530), Receiving Stolen Property (PC § 496), Burglary (PC § 459/460), Auto Theft (VC § 10851), Embezzlement (PC § 503), Robbery (PC § 211/212), and Carjacking (PC § 215).

Theft offenses are considered “crimes of moral turpitude” and a conviction on your criminal record can effect various aspects of your life including future employment, state licensing or certifications (contractors, teachers, nurses, physicians, real estate agents, etc.), travel to and from foreign countries, and immigration status.  I am offering you a free initial consultation so we can discuss the following:

  • Court procedures and penalties, including:  Deferred Entry of Judgment (DEJ), Reduction to an Infraction, Priorability under Penal Code Section 666, Immigration Consequences, Future Employment and Post Conviction Expungement/Relief, State Licensing or Certifications;
  • Possible defenses:  Intent – without INTENT you cannot be convicted of theft.
  • Defenses include being absent-minded, distracted, consent, mistake, and overzealous police or store security/loss prevention officers;
  • Costs of retaining this law firm; and

How to minimize the effect of a THEFT RELATED arrest on your life.

Petty Theft or Shoplifting is the most common property crime in the United States.  A person who ACCIDENTLY walks out of a store with merchandise can and often is prosecuted for Petty Theft, there are DEFENSES and ALTERNATIVES to having a conviction on your record.


Request a Pre Plea Continuance. A skillful attorney can persuade the District Attorney to continue the case for a period of time (usually 3-6 months) and require the Defendant to take a class and/or complete community service with the end result that the case is dismissed after the continuance period. The District Attorney may decide the Defendant is worthy because they have no prior record, they have career aspirations that may be effected by such a conviction and/or any other reason the Defense Attorney can provide.  This is the best resolution generally because there is no guilty plea and on most official records it will appear that the matter was simply dismissed.

Deferred Entry of Judgment. This method of resolving the case is an excellent option since it results in a dismissal. However, it usually requires a guilty or no contest plea up front with a dismissal some time later after the Defendant has completed theft class and/or community service. The guilty or no contest plea is held by the Judge and never entered on your record unless you fail to complete the required theft awareness course and/or community service. However, by completing the requirements set by the court, it results in a dismissal and does not have a detrimental effect on the Defendant.

Civil Compromise.  A Civil Compromise often can be arranged where the victim of the theft offense is paid back in full and agrees to a recommendation that a person not be prosecuted.  The District Attorney then either will agree to dismiss the case pursuant to the Civil Compromise or if the District Attorney refuses to accept a Civil Compromise we then move back to the other options described in this section.

A Negotiated Disposition. In cases where the first two options are not available because of policy reasons or a stubborn District Attorney then the Defense Attorney will simply have to negotiate the best deal he can. Often times more demanding requirements (a 10-week shoplifting class) may be offered with the hope of getting a dismissal coupled with extensive community service or other type of punishment.  If a criminal conviction cannot be avoided, then after a one year time period a motion to expunge the criminal record pursuant to Penal Code § 1203.4 can be filed to essentially clean the conviction off of your record.  The expungement is often done when a case has been reduced to an infraction or a conviction is unavoidable due to prior offenses, multiple store thefts, or dollar amount.

Immigration consequences of Theft Offenses – Although shoplifting might seem like a small time offense, its consequences can sometimes be very harsh.  For immigration purposes petty theft is considered a crime of “moral turpitude” or dishonesty and it can render the person accused deportable or deny them an extension of their permanent residency.  Petty theft can also affect your ability to become a United States Citizen if it goes on your record as a conviction.  We will work hard to negotiate a resolution so that your conviction will be for trespassing or disturbing the peace which have no immigration consequences compared to a petty theft conviction.

Future employment consequences of petty theft/shoplifting/Theft Offenses – Many prospective employers are now able to check your background before hiring you and many times a petty theft on your record can be embarrassing and can cost you the job.  Most employers are reluctant to hire new employees with a Shoplifting charge on their record.



The law has recently regarding the value of the item taken to qualify an offense as a petty theft versus a grand theft. The former threshold value for petty theft was under $400.00.  Currently under California Penal Code Section 484, a petty theft is a theft of property valued under $950.00.  Petty theft is a misdemeanor carrying up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $1,000.00, or both, plus restitution owed to the victim.  Our attorneys at the Nicholson Law Offices are thoroughly familiar with prosecutorial procedure and policies concerning theft prosecutions in the Bay Area and throughout Northern California.  If the monetary value of the item taken was less than $50.00, our attorneys can often convince the prosecutor to reduce a petty theft charge to an infraction.  Infractions do not carry jail time.  Infractions are punishable by a fine only, and therefore do not affect a person’s criminal record. Our attorneys have also been successful in convincing prosecutors to dismiss theft cases as part of a civil compromise, which involves the accused compensating the victim fully for the victim’s loss in exchange for a dismissal of the case.   Our agenda is to achieve results that do not involve jail time for our clients. Our experienced attorneys are knowledgeable in the alternative options to incarceration, such as private jail, work release, electronic home detention, as well as counseling for our clients.


If a person has three (3) or more prior convictions for theft offenses and is charged again with petty theft, prosecutors will charge that person with a felony called “petty theft with a prior,” a violation of Penal Code Section 666.  If you’re convicted of felony petty theft with a prior, you face the felony punishment, which can be a year in jail or up to three years in state prison.


Grand theft is charged where the value of the items taken is $950.00 or greater.  Theft of a firearm and theft of an item that was carried on the person of another are specific acts that qualify as felony grand theft regardless of the value of the things taken.  Grand theft is punishable by up to one year in jail or a state prison sentence of 16 months, 2 years or three years in prison.  Grand theft of amounts over $50,000 carries an additional punishment of additional years in prison.  If a person is charged with grand theft, our attorneys may be able achieve a reduction in severity from a felony charge to a misdemeanor. However, even if reduced to a misdemeanor, restitution to the victim may be ordered in addition to other terms of probation.


Under California Penal Code Section 496, it is illegal to knowingly receive stolen property.  The crime of receiving stolen property is committed when a person buys or receives any property that has been stolen or that has been obtained in any manner constituting theft or extortion, and the person knows the property to be stolen.  This also includes when a person conceals, sells, withholds, or aids in concealing, selling, or withholding any property from the owner with the knowledge that the property is stolen.  Receiving stolen property is a charge known as a “wobbler.”  This means that it can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor.  A felony conviction is punishable by imprisonment in state prison for up to three years.  A misdemeanor conviction is punishable by imprisonment in county jail for up to one year.  Along with the criminal penalties, there may also be civil penalties.


California Penal Code Section 459 defines burglary as entering a building, vehicle, vessel or cargo container with the intention of either stealing something or committing a felony.  The District Attorney does not need to prove that you succeeded in stealing or committing a felony.  The District Attorney must only prove your intent at the time of entry into the building.  There are two types of burglary. A burglary committed in someone’s home is a first-degree burglary, which is always a felony (residential burglary), and is considered a strike offense under California’s three strikes law.  All other types are second-degree burglaries and may be charged as misdemeanors or felonies (commercial burglary).


Because first-degree burglaries are always home invasions, the law provides for very severe penalties.  A residential burglary is punishable by up to six (6) years in state prison.  These penalties may be increased by prior convictions, specific enhancements, and/or aggravating factors in each case.  Furthermore, because a first-degree burglary is considered a serious felony in California, it will be deemed to be a “strike” offense.  That means that a person must serve at least 85% of a prison or jail sentence, regardless of good behavior or other circumstances.  It also has serious consequences if the person is convicted of another felony in the future.  A prior strike on a person’s record will double the potential prison sentence on any future felony charge, and if a second strike, a person must serve at least 80% of that sentence.  On a third “strike,” a person may be sentenced to prison for life.


Second-degree burglary is also called commercial burglary.  Commercial burglary is usually alleged where a person enters a business establishment or store with the intent to commit a crime therein.  To convict someone of commercial burglary, the state must prove that the person intended to commit a crime at the time he or she entered the building.  Commercial burglary is a crime known as a “wobbler”, which means it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.  If charged as a misdemeanor, a conviction is punishable by up to a year in county jail.  A felony commercial burglary conviction is punishable by up to three years in state prison.


Under California Vehicle Code Section 10851, it is unlawful to drive or take a vehicle that is not your own, without the consent of the owner, and with intent either to permanently or temporarily deprive the owner of title to or possession of the vehicle, regardless of intent to steal the vehicle.  A person can also be charged as a party or an accessory to or an accomplice in the driving or unauthorized taking or stealing of a vehicle.  Grand theft of a vehicle is a felony punishable with jail or prison, and/or a fine of up to $5,000.00.  It is not uncommon for vehicle theft charges to result from a misunderstanding, mistaken belief of consent (although consent on past occasions does not matter), or failure to inform/update the police that a vehicle once thought to be stolen has since been recovered or is no longer stolen.  Unfortunately, these mistakes result in the driver of the vehicle being arrested, and the situation must be fleshed out to the prosecution by the defense attorney.  A theft conviction can have a terrible effect on a person’s ability to get a job, or even to keep a current job.  Theft offenses are crimes of moral turpitude, which means they have an element of dishonesty.  One mistake in judgment can reflect poorly on a person’s character in the eyes of others.  Theft offenses can also carry negative consequences if a person is not a citizen of the United States.  Our main objective at Nicholson Law Offices is to eliminate or minimize the negative impact of an arrest or theft conviction on a person’s life.

Contact an attorney at Nicholson Law Offices for a free consultation to discuss the specifics of your case and what options may be available to you.  You will speak directly to an attorney and not given an inexperienced attorney or paralegal.  Ask to speak to Mr. Nicholson himself as he handles all consultations personally!