Everything You Need to Know About California Theft Laws

In California, there are certain rules on the grounds for petty theft, grand theft, and shoplifting. Here’s everything you need to know about California theft laws.

A misdemeanor is a type of criminal offense, which typically results in less than one year of jail time. Commonly issued punishments for misdemeanors can include community service hours, fines, probation, and short-term jail time. Misdemeanors can be classified by a letter and the length of jail time that applies. For example, Class A results in a maximum term of 6 months in jail, Class B results in a maximum sentence of 30 days, and a Class C misdemeanor results in a 5-30 day sentence. A felony is a punishment for a more grievous crime, which results in a minimum sentence of 12 months. A Class A felony calls for either life in prison or the death penalty as maximum punishment, a Class B felony results in a 25+ year sentence, a Class C felony warrants a 10-25 year sentence, a Class D results in 5-10 year sentence, and lastly, a Class E felony punishment will lead to a 1-5 years of maximum jail time. Both misdemeanors and felonies can be determined by this class system or on a case-by-case basis.

Petty Theft

California law makes it a crime for an individual to steal property or services from another person worth $950 or less per Penal Code 488. Penal Code 488 loosely defines additional forms of theft as petty theft. An example of this kind of theft would be if a person steals their friend’s $300 bracelet and does not return it. Furthermore, if someone takes something from another person, regardless of their intention, and does not return it, they are guilty of petty theft.

Grand Theft

The grounds for grand theft are if a person takes money, labor, or personal property from another person, with the value of the property exceeding $950. California Penal Code Section 484 defines any of the following incidents as grand theft:

  • If money, labor, or real or personal property is taken by an agent or employee from their principal/employer, and the property aggregates $950+ in a year-long period, and
  • When property, such as an automobile or firearm, is taken from another person.

It is important to note that the following incidents are considered acts of grand theft, despite their monetary value being under $950. These additional examples of grand theft include:

  • Taking domestic fruits, vegetables, nuts, or other agricultural crops exceeding $250 in wholesale value, and
  • Taking shellfish, fish, crustaceans, mollusks, kelp, algae, or other aquacultural goods from a commercial or research establishment exceeding $250 in value.


In California, shoplifting is defined as entering a commercial establishment, i.e., a store, with the intent to commit larceny, during the establishment’s regular business hours. Larceny is defined as the theft of personal property. In this case, any individual who steals property from a store that is under $950 in value is considered a shoplifter. An individual who intends to steal property from a store that is greater than $950 will have committed a burglary. If a person is charged with shoplifting, they will not also be charged with burglary for that same offense.

Shoplifting is punished as a misdemeanor on the first offense. If a person has one or more previous convictions of shoplifting, or if their offense is specified in Penal Code Section 667 in Clause IV of subparagraph C, of paragraph 2, and Subdivision E as an act requiring registration in accordance with Section 290. Thus, their punishment is outlined in Subdivision H of Section 1170.

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