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Understanding the Difference Between Grand Theft and Petty Theft


As a crime, theft is fairly straightforward. Those that commit it have taken something that doesn’t belong to them. But as a charge, it can be a little bit more complicated. Many people have heard the terms “grand theft” and “petty theft,” but not everybody understands what the difference between these terms is.

Grand theft is the act of stealing $950 or more of case or goods from somebody else, while petty theft is the term that covers thefts where the value of the stolen goods is less than $950. Beyond this, the two terms function rather similarly.

Today we are going to dive deeper into this topic to learn more about how theft works. We’ll first look at whether grand theft is a misdemeanor or a felony. Then we’ll discuss the different types of grand theft, as well as how you can defend yourself against a charge of grand theft or petty theft.

Is Grand Theft a Misdemeanor or a Felony?

Grand theft is one of the “wobbler” crimes. These are crimes that can be charged as misdemeanors or as felonies. So to answer the question of whether grand theft is a misdemeanor or a felony: it is both.

The one exception to this is when the thing that is stolen is a firearm. If a firearm is stolen then the offending party is arrested and charged with grand theft as a felony. Grand theft as a felony can result in up to three years in a state prison.

Petty theft, on the other hand, may also be charged as both a misdemeanor or a felony. However, it is far more likely for petty theft to be charged as a misdemeanor. In fact, petty theft can even be charged as an infraction when the value of the stolen property is $50 or less. As a misdemeanor, petty theft could result in six months in a county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. As an infraction, it is punishable by a fine of up to $250.

Both petty theft and grand theft are wobbler crimes though, so it’s important to understand why a charge may be a felony instead of a misdemeanor. The primary reason for petty theft to be charged as a felony is that the individual accused of the crime has a history of theft crimes and violent crimes. Grand theft, on the other hand, may be charged as a felony without a prior history of criminality. For grand theft charges, the circumstances of the theft itself are considered more directly when deciding whether to charge as a misdemeanor or a felony.

What Are the Four Major Types of Grand Theft?

Not every theft looks the same. Theft can be committed in a number of ways but they are basically divided into four categories. Other ways of committing a theft may develop as technology changes and the world evolves, but the four major types of grand theft are:

  • Larceny: Larceny occurs when an individual takes possession of $950 or more in somebody else’s property, they didn’t have permission to take the property, the property was moved and kept for some time, with the intention of keeping it permanently or long enough to deprive the rightful owner of the property. Basically, this is your classic stealing where somebody simply takes one of your belongings.
  • False Pretense: False pretense theft occurs when an individual knowingly and intentionally deceives somebody through an untrue statement, the act was committed to allow you to take $950 or more of their property, and the individual believed the false pretense. With a theft of this type, the victim purposefully hands over their property but because they have been misled.
  • Trick: This occurs when an individual knowingly and intentionally obtains $950 or more of somebody else’s property, did some using fraud or deceit, the transfer of property was not intended for you, you took possession of the property for some time with the intention of depriving the rightful owner of it. Say somebody asked to borrow your phone for a call but made off with it, this would be a trick.
  • Embezzlement: Embezzlement occurs when an individual is entrusted with another person’s property valued at $950 or higher, you were put in a position of trust, you took or used the property fraudulently to benefit yourself, and had the intention of permanently keeping it or keeping it long enough to deprive the rightful owner. Transferring funds from something you’re trusted to oversee in order to pay your own bills would be a form of embezzlement.

How Do You Defend Against a Grand Theft or Petty Theft Charge?

A crime needs to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, the best way to defend yourself against a charge of grand theft or petty theft is to cast doubt on one of the necessary conditions for conviction.

Each type of theft we looked at above has a strict criteria that must be met in order for a conviction. One area that leaves room for interpretation is the concept of depriving an individual of their property. If you had no intention of keeping or depriving the individual, then it is hard to be convicted for theft.

Determining which defensive tactic to use can be a challenge. It will depend on the unique circumstances of your case, what you are accused of, what evidence there is, and a number of other factors.

Should I Work With a Professional?

If you have been accused of petty or grand theft then you should seek the assistance of an experienced fraud  attorney. They will best understand how to evaluate the circumstances of your case and formulate a defense. They can also offer assistance in gathering evidence, witnesses, and the like to build a compelling argument in favor of your innocence. Working with an attorney doesn’t guarantee that you will win the case, but it certainly improves your chances (especially when compared to those who try to represent themselves).

The post Understanding the Difference Between Grand Theft and Petty Theft appeared first on Law Office of Diane C. Bass, A Professional Law Corporation.