Grand Theft

Grand theft – it’s about more than automobiles

The phrase “grand theft” probably reminds you of a popular video game. But in California, the crime of grand theft covers a lot more than just the theft of motor vehicles.

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Any theft of more than $950 in value can potentially be charged as grand theft in California. In some cases, the value threshold is even less.

When you hear “grand theft”, you might immediately think of “Grand Theft Auto”, a popular video game. However, one does not need to steal a car to be charged with grand theft. Section 487 of the California Penal Code defines grand theft as the unlawful taking of property valued at over $950.

Furthermore, a defendant can be charged with grand theft even if the value does not exceed $950 in certain circumstances specified in 487 PC. For example, theft directly from a victim’s person or theft of a car, horse, or firearm is always considered grand theft, even when the value of the property is under $950.

Elements of the crime of grand theft

To convict on a charge of grand theft under California 487 PC, a prosecutor must prove that the defendant took the property of another:

  • Without the owner’s permission
  • With the intent to permanently deprive the owner of his property

Examples of grand theft

  • Someone steals an expensive Swiss watch from your locked gym locker
  • A shoplifter steals a pair of designer shoes valued at over $1000 from a department store
  • A valet steals your car, even though the car is worth only $800
  • Someone steals an expensive laptop from a coffee shop

Penalties for grand theft in California

Depending on the circumstances of the offense and the prosecutor’s discretion, grand theft can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony offense. Misdemeanor grand theft carries a sentence of up to one year in a local jail. Consequences for a felony grand theft conviction range from probation and/or up to one year in county jail, to a maximum of three years in state prison.

Legal defenses

Several legal defenses are available to mitigate or defeat a charge of grand theft. For example, a person should not be found guilty of grand theft if they had:

  • No intent to steal

Because the prosecutor has to show the accused intended to steal in order to convict for grand theft, a person should not be convicted if they did not intend to steal.

  • Consent from the owner

Having the owner’s permission to use or take the property that was allegedly stolen is a defense to grand theft.

  • A reasonable belief that the property belonged to them

If the accused honestly thought the allegedly stolen property belonged to them, they are not guilty of grand theft because their intent was to possess their own property, not to steal the property from someone else.