Petty theft, or a violation of Penal Code Section 484-488, is when someone steals an item or items of value when that item(s) doesn’t have a large dollar value. It used to be that if what was stolen was worth less than $400.00 is was clearly a misdemeanor violation, commonly called petty theft. If the value was more than $400.00 it became a violation of Penal Code 487 and a possible felony.
Recently, perhaps as a sign of inflation or a recognition that everyday items just cost more, the law has changed to increase threshold of felony grand theft to $950.00. If whatever is stolen is worth less than $950.00 than the charge will be a misdemeanor petty theft.
A common occurrence is when someone steals from a store, such as Nordstrom’s Department Store, the value can quickly exceed the $950.00 grand theft value. The District Attorney has the choice to file this case as a felony or a misdemeanor. Even though it could be a felony, it doesn’t have to be. The District Attorney, or whoever is the prosecutor, has the discretion to file a felony or a misdemeanor.
Why wouldn’t the prosecutor file the most serious charge possible? The fact is, the prosecutor is required to “do justice” not just prosecute to the maximum degree allowed under the law. So when a theft is committed the prosecutor should look to several factors. These would include: Does the person have a prior record, and; what was the value of the items taken, and; who was the victim, and; was there any evidence that this was premeditated or thought out before the theft. These factors are not exhaustive nor are they exclusive.
The criminal defense lawyer must show the prosecutor the factors in mitigation of the theft. Good people do unwise or ill thought out actions. Sometimes it’s just an impulse. Sometimes it’s a result of an effort at self destruction. The challenge is to prove to the prosecutor that no matter what happened there is a good person who deserves some level of consideration by the system and not just “throw the book at them”.