6 Things You Didn’t Know About “Grand Theft” Charges

Penal Code 487

What is Considered Grand Theft?

By: Diana Aizman
Founding Attorney at Aizman Law Firm

California’s law on grand theft defines grand theft as the intentional taking away of the property of another

  • Property stolen was worth more than $950.
  • The property was taken directly off of the property owner, no matter how much the property is worth (i.e. taken from the clothing of, on the body of, or in a container held or carried by a person, as in a mugging);
  • The property was of a certain type,
  • Automobile or firearm.
  • Fruit or nuts worth more than $250. fish, shellfish, or aquacultural products worth more than $250 if taken from a commercial fishery or research operation.
  • Certain animals like a horse.

Except as listed above, if the value of the stolen property is $950 or less, the theft is considered to be “petty theft” pursuant to California Penal Code Section 484 and 488 

Examples Of Grand Theft
  • Stealing jewelry from a jewelry store that is valued over $950.
  • Picking a wallet from a woman’s purse while sitting next to her on the bus.
  • Stealing computers or mobile devices.

How Does the Prosecutor Prove Grand Theft?


The elements of a “grand theft” depend on the type of grand theft that is involved (discussed in more detail in the next section).  To prove that you are guilty of grand theft, a prosecutor has to show the following:

  • The defendant committed theft1;
  • The property’s value was over $9502.

Legal Defenses

No Intent To Steal

Intent is one of the requisite elements that a prosecutor has to show in order to convict of a theft crime.  If you did not have intent to steal in the first place, you are not guilty of grand theft.

Consent From The Owner

If the owner of the property that you allegedly stole gave you permission to take the property, you are not guilty of grand theft.


Peter’s neighbor gave him permission to use his lawnmower over the weekend.  However, after Peter went over to the neighbor’s front lawn and took the lawnmower to mow his lawn, the neighbor accused Peter of stealing the lawn mower from him.  Peter can use the defense of consent to show that he had the owner’s permission to use the lawn mower and that his intent was not to steal it, but only to borrow it.

Belief That The Property Belongs To You

If the property actually belonged to you or if you honestly but mistakenly thought that the property you took belonged to you, you are not guilty of grand theft.  This additionally shows that your intent was not to take the property; rather to claim or re-claim what you thought was rightfully yours. 

You Were Falsely Accused

If you were wrongfully accused of taking something, but you did not do so, or did not intent to do so, your criminal defense attorney will ensure to thoroughly investigate the evidence in your favor and to try to show that you were framed, set up, or just plainly wrongfully blamed for something you did not do.

Penalties For Grand Theft

Grand theft is a wobbler offense which means it can be charged either as a misdemeanor or felony offense.  The level of the penalty depends on the facts of the case and your criminal history.

Probation Not mandatoryFelony probation
Jail Or PrisonUp to 1 year County JailUp to 1 year County Jail, or 16 months, 2 or 3 years in state prison
Enhancement Pursuant to Penal Code Section 12022.6(a)

If there are multiple charges of theft, whether grand or petty theft, and the aggregate loss exceeds any of the statutory minimums in California Penal Code Section 12022.6(a), and the thefts arise from a common scheme or plan, an additional prison term may be imposed.

If the aggregate loss exceeds statutory amounts ranging from $50,000 to $2.5 million, an additional term of one to four years may be imposed.3

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The Difference Between Misdemeanor & Felony Grand Theft

For people arrested for grand theft and facing charges, an important distinction in your case will be whether the charges are filed by the prosecution as a misdemeanor or felony which can also distinguish if the case is filed by the district attorneys office or the city attorney if your city has both offices. The district attorneys office typically handle felonies and the city attorneys office handle misdemeanors.  Some jurisdiction only have a district attorneys office which handles both.

What constitutes a felony versus a misdemeanor?

Prosecutors have discretion when filing misdemeanor or felony charges and this decision is based on a variety of factors including the following:

  • The total value of the property that was alleged to have been stolen.
  • How the crime was alleged to have been carried out including if there was any violence or threat of violence to victims.
  • The criminal history of the individual or individuals involved, especially if there are convictions for similar crimes in the defendants past.

Resources On The Criminal Court Process & Related Charges

Next Steps If You Have Been Charged

If you have been arrested and would like to learn more about what attorneys charge.

If you want to understand why its important to have an attorney represent you.

If you are ready to discuss a pending case with an attorney contact the Aizman Law Firm at 818-351-9555 for a free confidential consultation.

Get Legal Help

Request A Free Consultation 818-351-9555 


  1. Theft can be committed in several ways, as listed below in the next section, such as permanently depriving another of their property; temporarily depriving another of their property in a way in which the owner is denied  of a major part of its value or enjoyment; deceiving or defrauding another of their property or services; or with the intent to do any of the above []
  2. The value of the stolen item(s) is determined by the fair market value if it involves property.  If it involves services, the value is determined by the contract price if there was a contract, or the reasonable value/rate for services in the area if there was no contract []
  3. Pen. Code, § 12022.6(a)(1)–(4); see People v. Daniel (1983) 145 Cal.App.3d 168, 174–175 [193 Cal.Rptr. 277] [no error in refusing to give unanimity instruction]. []

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