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Defending Grand Theft Charges in California

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Mar 25, 2021

Review of Penal Code 487 PC Grand Theft Charges and Defenses in California

California Penal Code 487 PC describes defines grand theft as unlawfully taking another person's property that is valued at $950 or more.

Defending Penal Code 487 PC Grand Theft Charges in California
Grand theft charges in California involve taking someone's property valued at $950 or more.

PC 487 is a “wobbler” that can be filed by the prosecutor as either a misdemeanor or felony crime. If the property taken has a value of less than $950, then a misdemeanor charge of petty theft can be filed.

California law calls theft the common crime that some would call stealing or larceny. Penal Code 490a makes clear that any crime referred to as larceny, embezzlement, or stealing is a theft in legal terms.

A charge of grand theft is a charge involving some form of stealing, such as shoplifting high value items or embezzling from your employer.

Definition of grand theft 

Penal Code 487 PC defines this form of theft crime as:

  • “Grand theft is theft committed when the money, labor, or real or personal property taken is of a value exceeding $950.”

Grand theft charges are based on specific key factors known as the elements of the crime that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

There are different ways to commit a grand theft depending on the type of charge, such as by:

  • larceny,
  • false pretense,
  • trick,
  • embezzlement.

Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are providing more detailed information below.

To What Property Can Grand Theft Charges Apply?

As stated, PC 487 defines grand theft as stealing money, labor, or real or personal property. There are a wide range of common items of value that would qualify, such as:

  • cash,
  • jewelry,
  • motor vehicles,
  • equipment,
  • home furnishings,
  • appliances,  
  • shoplifted items like electronics, clothing, or cosmetics.

Several other subsections of Penal Code 487 reinforce that grand theft can also apply to such unusual forms of property as livestock, fixtures stripped from land or buildings, dogs, cargo, copper cables and pipe, and farm equipment and all-terrain vehicles.

Distinguishing Grand Theft from Petty Theft

The designation grand theft has to do with the value of the stolen property. California Penal Code 486 divides the theft crime into two classes: petty theft and grand theft.

Penal Code 487 PC then clarifies that petty theft becomes grand theft when the stolen property's value is more than $950.

The grand theft crime once included stealing certain property having values under $950, but California voter initiatives in 2014 and 2016 added and amended Penal Code 490.2 to generally require values greater than $950 for any grand theft conviction. The merchant's privilege gives store owners the right to detain shoplifting suspects in California.

Prior to the passage of Proposition 47, you could still be charged with grand theft under the following circumstances:

  • theft of a firearm having a value less than $950;
  • theft of a motor vehicle;
  • grand theft conviction of those who had already suffered a conviction for certain crimes, such as livestock, or
  • other special property that they stole had a value less than $950.

Further, grand theft penalties still apply to thefts of many types of property, regardless of value, and if the defendant has prior convictions for:

  • sex crime convictions requiring them to register as a sex offender under California Penal Code 290, or
  • specific serious felony convictions, such as rape, child molestation, violent crimes, or murder.

Penal Code 487 Grand Theft Penalties

The distinction between grand theft and petty theft is important because of the difference in potential penalties.

Penal Code 487 Grand Theft Penalties
PC 487 grand theft is a "wobbler" that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony.

In most cases, PC 487 is a “wobbler” that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances of the case and defendant's criminal record.

A misdemeanor grand theft conviction is punishable by:

  • up to one year in county jail,
  • a fine up to $1,000.

A felony grand theft conviction is punishable by:

  • 16 months, 2 or 3 years in jail,
  • A fine up $5,000.

If the grand theft conviction had to do with stealing a firearm, then the felony penalty increases up to three years in jail.

There are also penalty enhancements for theft of property having very high values exceeding $65,000.

You could also face a “strike” under California's three strikes law.

Related Crimes for Penal Code 487 Grand Theft

Penal Code 484 PC – petty theft,

Penal Code 666 PC – petty theft with prior,

Penal Code 487(d)(1) PC – grand theft auto,

Penal Code 459 PC – burglary,

Penal Code 211 PC – robbery.

How Can I Fight PC 487 Grand Theft Charges?

Our criminal defense lawyers typically attack and defeat grand theft charges by showing reasonable doubt about the prosecution's evidence.

How Can I Fight PC 487 Grand Theft Charges?
There are many different defense strategies we can use to fight grand theft charges.

This will normally include a defense approach at targeting on one or more of the elements of a grand theft crime.

Grand theft can include taking another's property by false pretenses, trick, or embezzlement.

The stealing form of California's grand theft crime generally involves intentionally taking and carrying away another's property worth more than $950 without their consent.

A defendant must also have had the intent to deprive either permanently or long enough to substantially reduce the property's use or value to its owner.

Aggressive advocacy, both in the cross-examination of prosecution witnesses and presentation of defense witnesses, may raise reasonable doubt on any of those elements to defeat the Penal Code 487 grand theft charge.

Clearly, every grand theft case will be unique and we need to first closely examine all the details to develop an appropriate strategy.

Some of the most common defenses to fight the charges include:

  • there was a lack of intent to steal, such as you accidentally carried away the property;
  • you owned, leased, or otherwise had a claim of right to the property, reasonably believing it to be the defendant's own;
  • you had the owner's consent to take and use the property or reasonably believed in that consent;
  • you were not the person whom the property's owner or other witnesses suspect took the property.

Criminal Defense for California Grand Theft Charges

Grand theft is not an open-and-shut charge. Strong advocacy from our experienced criminal lawyers can give you the best chance at a favorable outcome.  

We might be able to may raise reasonable doubt over whether theft occurred at all, whether you were involved, or whether you had the necessary intent.

Police misconduct in the search for theft evidence, identification or interrogation, may also require that the court suppress incriminating evidence.

Criminal Defense for California Grand Theft Charges
Contact our top-rated defense lawyers to discuss the case and legal options.

If you are facing grand theft charges in violation of California Penal Code 487 PC, contact our law firm to review the details of the case.

We can tell you whether the items prosecutors allege as stolen qualifies as a grand theft charge. 

We have the skill, experience, and commitment to defend and obtain the best possible outcome.

We might be able to negotiate with the prosecutor for reduced charges or a case dismissal, or avoid the filing of charges through prefiling intervention.

Eisner Gorin LLP is located at 1999 Avenue of the Stars, 11th Fl., Los Angeles, CA 90067. Contact us by calling (310) 328-3776 for a free immediate response, or contact the firm online

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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