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Theft Charges

What are Theft Charges?

Theft charges are divided into two degrees; (1) grand theft and (2) petty theftGrand theft is the unlawful taking of money, labor, or property with a value exceeding $950. There are many variations of grand theft charges that may result in corresponding variations in punishment. These variations of grand theft include stealing a fire arm, a motor vehicle, agricultural machinery, and equipment in rural counties. Grand theft is a felony and punishments are governed by corresponding legislation. 

Petty theft is the crime of stealing items or money, labor, or property that is worth less than $950. A common form of petty theft is shoplifting. For petty theft of property valued below $50, a prosecutor has the discretion to charge the crime as a misdemeanor or an infraction resulting in a fine of up to $250. Petty theft is a misdemeanor if the offender does not have a prior theft conviction.

Types Of Theft


Fraud is a wrongful or criminal deception with intent of personal or financial gain. Types of fraud include, securities fraud, welfare fraud, medical fraud, insurance fraud, credit card fraud, identity fraud, also referred to as identity theft, tax fraud, and so on. Criminal fraud is not to be confused with civil fraud. In a criminal fraud case, the prosecutor is seeking jail time. In a civil fraud law suit, the person filing the lawsuit claims to be the victim and is suing for money.

Possible punishment(s) for fraud:

  • Misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances
  • Up 10 years or more in federal prison depending on the circumstances
  • Up to $10,000 in fines

Robbery is the taking of personal property from a person against their will by means of fear or force. Robbery is a felony that is divided into two degrees. First degree robbery is the unlawful taking of property through force or intimidation in an inhabited home. Second degree robbery takes place when the robbery DOES NOT take place in an inhabited home.

Possible punishment(s) for first degree robbery:

  • State prison sentence of 3-9

Possible punishment(s) for second degree robbery:

  • State prison sentence of 2-5 years
Auto Theft

Auto theft is the intentional stealing of a motor vehicle. Since most vehicles cost over $950, auto or car theft is usually grand theft auto. Due to the nature of the crime, it is nearly always charged as a felony. If the “vehicle” in question was a small trailer attached to another vehicle, it can be charged as a misdemeanor.

Punishment(s) for auto theft:

  • Up to 4 years county jail
  • Up to $10,000 in fines

There are two categories of burglary; (1) commercial burglary and (2) residential burglary. Commercial burglary may occur if the defendant enters a commercial establishment with the specific intent to commit a theft. Commercial burglary is considered second degree burglary. Residential burglary is the entering of a home, apartment, or place of residence with the intent to commit theft. Residential burglary is charged as first degree burglary.

Possible punishment(s) for first degree burglary:

  • Felony charge
  • Probation depending on the circumstances
  • 2-6 years in California State Prison
  • Fines up to $10,000

Possible punishment(s) for second degree burglary:

  • Felony or misdemeanor charge depending on the circumstances
  • Probation depending on the circumstances
  • 1-3 years of jail time
  • Fines up to $1,000
Identity Theft

Identity theft is when the accused steals someone else’s personal information to use as their own. There are different types of identity theft. These different types of identity theft include Financial Identity Theft, Driver’s License Identity Theft, Criminal Identity Theft, Social Security Identity Theft, Medical Identity Theft, Insurance Identity Theft, Child Identity Theft, Synthetic Identity Theft, and so on.

Possible punishment(s) for identity theft:

  • Misdemeanor or felony charge
  • Sentence of up to 1 year in county jail (misdemeanor)
  • State prison sentence of 3 years (felony)
  • Up to $1,000 in fines (misdemeanor)
  • Up to $10,000 in fines (felony)

Shoplifting is not a legal term. When shoplifting occurs, the prosecutor will charge the accused with either grand theft or petty theft and commercial burglary. This means that shoplifting can result in either a misdemeanor or a felony. Typically, a first-time offender will receive probation, and a few days in jail. If the accused has prior offenses, shoplifting could be charged as a felony.

Possible punishment(s) for shoplifting:

  • Misdemeanor or felony charge
  • Between $50-$1,000 in fines
  • Up to 6 months in county jail
  • Jail time could be longer under certain circumstances

Embezzlement is a white collar crime that can be punished by state and federal law. It is the act of theft through misappropriating the funds placed in the trust of the accused. These funds could belong to an employer, a company, or its investors. A micro example is a cashier at a retail store who pockets money intended for the cash register. A macro example is a management level executive who fraudulently misappropriates large amounts of the company’s money.

Possible punishment(s) for embezzlement:

  • Misdemeanor or felony charge
  • Between 16 months to 3 years in county jail 
  • Up t0 $1,000 in fines (misdemeanor)
  • Up t0 $10,000 in fines (felony)
  • Jail sentences and fines vary based on circumstances
Forgery / Counterfeiting

Forgery is an unauthorized signing of someone else’s signature with the intent to defraud. Forgery can be signing someone else’s signature on a check without their consent with the intent of financial gain. Counterfeiting is the use of fake currency with the intent to defraud. An example of counterfeiting is using a fake $10 bill to pay for lunch.

Possible punishment(s) for forgery and counterfeiting:

  • Forgery is a misdemeanor charge if the item is less than $950
  • Fogery is a felony charge if the item forged exceeds $950
  • Up to 1 year in county jail (misdemanor)
  • Up to $1,000 in fines (misdemeanor)
  • Between 16 months to 3 years in prison (felony)
  • Up to $10,000 in fines (felony)
  • Restitution
  • Probation
Bad Checks

A bad check is a check that is written and cannot be honored due to insufficient funds. Bad checks are criminal charges if the person who wrote the check did so with the intent to commit fraud. If the check bounces, the person who wrote the check still needs to make good on the money owed. Bad checks that exceed $950 are charged as a felony. Depending on prior convictions of the accused, if the check is less than $950, it may be charged as a misdemeanor.

Possible punishment(s) for bad checks:

  • Up to 1 year in jail (misdemeanor)
  • Up to $1,000 in fines (misdemeanor)
  • Up to 3 years in state prison (felony)
What To Do When Facing Theft Charges

Theft charges are a serious stain on your criminal record. Whether you have prior convictions or not, if you are facing theft charges, you need an experienced theft lawyer. Stephen A. Varga is a theft lawyer that has been operating out of the Greater Los Angeles Area since 1980. He will use every resource available to fight whatever theft charges you are facing. Do not hesitate and call the Law Office of Stephen A. Varga today for a free consultation.


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The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Information about possible sentences are only provided to give the reader a general idea. In any given case, sentencing considerations can be far more complicated. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship.

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