Grand theft is an unlawful act of taking something that belongs to someone else when the property is valued at $950 or more. California criminal law allows the offense to be charged even when the theft occurred as a result of one mistake. A conviction for grand theft will see you face harsh penalties, including jail time and hefty fines. If you are facing grand theft charges, it is essential to seek legal representation from a criminal defense attorney. At the California Criminal Lawyer Group, we offer consultation and defense services for the charges you are facing. Contact us from any location in San Jose, California, to ensure the best possible outcome in your case.

Overview of California Penal Code 487

Under Penal Code 487, grand theft occurs when you unlawfully acquire or use another person's property without their consent. The value of the property in question must be valued at $950 or more to qualify as grand theft. If the property's value is lower than this, then you will be charged with petty theft. However, there are some exceptions to this law. You can also get charged with grand theft for taking property less than $950 if:

  1. The property in question was an automobile
  2. When committing the offense, you used a firearm regardless of whether the victim was injured or not.
  3. The property you are accused of taking is a live animal including horses sheep among others
  4. When you committed the offense, you acquired the item straight from the owner.

In this case, the penalties for grand theft will apply regardless of the property's value. Also, if you have a prior conviction for a felony sex offense that requires you to register as a sex offender, you will get charged with a felony.

If you consciously take small amounts of money or property from your employer, you can face grand theft charges. This will be the case if the price you have fraudulently made within twelve months adds up to $950. An act of grand theft can be committed individually or by a group of people working together. However, as long as the property stolen from one person is worth $950 or more, you will be charged under California Penal Code 487. There are different ways through which you can commit an act of grand theft. The specific elements of the crime to be proven by the prosecutor differ depending on the category of grand theft charge you are facing.

The following are common ways through which grand theft takes place:

Grand theft Through Embezzlement

Embezzlement is a theft offense where an employee unlawfully uses something that is entrusted to them. You can get charged with grand theft if you commit a crime of Embezzlement. This will be the case when the value of the property involved is worth $950 or more. The following are elements that make up an embezzlement offense under California Penal Code 503;

  • You were entrusted with property by the owner
  • The property owner gave you a right to the property since they trusted you
  • You broke their trust by fraudulently using the property to benefit yourself
  • When using the property, you intended to take it away from its owner temporarily or permanently

If the prosecutor can conclusively prove these elements of Embezzlement and the item in question is worth $950 or more, you will get convicted for grand theft.

Grand Theft through larceny

Theft occurs when you unlawfully take possession of personal property belonging to someone else. For sentencing grand theft based on robbery, the property taken must be tangible. To convict you for grand theft, the prosecutor needs to prove:

  1. You acquired property belonging go someone else
  2. The owner of the property did not consent to you getting the item, and you moved the thing from its original.
  3. When you took the property, you intended to deprive the owner of its access permanently. Also, if you withhold the item a period long enough to deny them a significant portion of enjoyment.

Even simple acts of shoplifting can lead to a conviction for grand theft by larceny if the value of the items stolen totals to $950 or more. If you or your loved one is facing larceny charges, it is essential to consult a criminal defense attorney for guidance.

Grand Theft by Trick

You violate California Penal Code 487 using a trick if:

  1. You obtained an item belonging to someone else, and you knew that the property was not yours.
  2. To get this item you used deceit or fraud
  3. You possessed the property for a short or long period enough to deprive enjoyment of the item from the owner
  4. You took the property temporarily or permanently
  5. The owner of the property had no intention of transferring ownership of that property to you.

In grand theft by trick, the property owner lets you have the property without any knowledge that you are committing an act of theft.

Theft by False Pretense

You can get convicted for grand larceny by pretense if you lie to someone else so you can persuade them to give you something of value. Also providing false promises and letting someone work for you without pay can be considered an act of theft. The prosecutor cannot convict you for grand theft without proving these elements:

  • You intentionally and knowingly deceived someone. The prosecutor should show that you willingly made the victim believe in something that wasn't true or producing a false piece of document. In this case, you need to have known that the information you provided was incorrect. Pretense includes: Making reckless statements without the knowledge or a reason to believe that the data is correct. Failing to provide information that you were obliged to give considering the circumstances at that time can cause a conviction for this offense.
  • Your intent to persuade the victim to give up property. You need to have had the intention to convince the owner of the property to give it up to you. If your actions aimed at deceiving them for other purposes, you could not be convicted for grand theft.
  • False token or witness. The prosecutor must show proof that you made a pretense in the form of false writing, signed the document as well as testimony from witnesses. If you get charged with using false assumptions to steal from multiple people, only two witnesses are required for the case.
  • When a person gives up their property, they should have done so in reliance on the information you offered. Even if the victim of grand theft offered their property to you for numerous different reasons, you could be convicted as long as pretense was the main reason. The prosecutor must prove the decision to let you have possession of the item relied on your wrong information.

When the court believes that you committed grand theft under more than one of these circumstances, they do not need to pinpoint the exact one. However, they have to show that you committed an act that qualifies to be charged as grand theft. Failure to do this, they cannot convict you for violating Penal Code 487 of California.

There are many ways through which you can get charged with grand theft. Therefore, it is essential to battle these charges with the help of a criminal defense attorney.


Penalties that Accompany a Conviction Under Penal Code 487 of California

In California, grand theft is a wobbler and can get charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. Whether you get charged with a misdemeanor or a felony will depend on specific circumstances of the case as well as your criminal history.

Penalties for a Wobbler

For a misdemeanor conviction of grand theft, the court can sentence you to a maximum of one year in county jail. Also, you may be required to pay a $1,000 fine and compensate the property owner an amount equal to the value of the property you took.

On the other hand, if you are convicted with a felony grand theft, you may spend up to three years in jail and pay fines not exceeding $10,000. You will also be expected to pay restitution to the owner of the property. The court may order you to serve a probation period which lasts up to three years. When you are sentenced with felony probation, you need to maintain employment, avoid involvement in other crimes, and do regular checks with your probation officer.

Penalty for Grand Theft with use of Firearms

There is no misdemeanor charge for grand theft firearm. This offense is always treated as a felony with a potential penalty of up to three years in state prison. Moreover, a grand theft firearm is a strike offense under three strikes law of California.

Enhancement of penalties

When you are charged with felony grand theft, you are likely to get a penalty enhancement if the value of the property involved is particularly high. When calculating the amount of stolen property, the court will put together value all property involved under a single scheme. Potential enhancements include:

  1. An addition of one year in jail if the property involved is worth more than $65,000
  2. Two years for property worth $200,000 or more
  3. A three years additional sentence if the property you took was worth $1,300,000 or more
  4. Four years for property worth more than $3,200,000

Multiple counts of Grand Theft

When you are convicted of grand theft for several times, you are considered a repeat offender. Especially if you committed the offense against one person or entity, your penalties would be increased during the sentencing. If you are a grand theft repeat offender consider seeking help from a California criminal defense attorney.


Defense against Grand Theft Charges

Getting charged under California Penal Code 487 is not a guarantee that you will get convicted. With the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney, you can present the following defenses for your grand theft charges:

  • Lack of Criminal Item

To get convicted for grand theft, the prosecutor must prove that you acted intending to commit a crime. If you can successfully convince the court that you made a mistake which resulted in the offense you cannot get convicted under Penal Code 487. Also, you can pursue a possible drop in the charges against you.

  • Consent from the Property owner

It is considered an act of grand theft if you take something belonging to someone else without their permission. If the owner of the property consented to you using or taking possession of the item, you wouldn't be guilty of this offense. However, the way that you used the property must be in the scope of what the owner consented. Contrary to this, you cannot use this defense. If you can show proof of consent from the property owner, you can fight the charges against you.

  • Claim of right

Ownership of the property involved in a grand theft charge is vital when proving the occurrence of the event. You cannot get convicted for grand theft if you take your property. If you can prove that you owed the property, then you cannot be held guilty for this offense. Also, if you have a valid reason to believe that you owned the property, then you can argue your case. However, it is crucial to understand that if you attempt to hide the fact that you took the item, you cannot use this as a defense. You are also barred from presenting a claim of right as a defense for a property that you owed illegally.

  • Entrapment

Entrapment occurs when another person induces you to commit a crime that you usually would not have carried out. However, you should not have a prior intention to commit the crime, and you only acted on the entrapment. Proving entrapment increases your chances of getting fewer penalties for a grand theft conviction.

  • Duress

Sometimes you may be forced by a person with authority over you to commit the crime. This can occur through blackmail or by use of force and threats. If you can offer sufficient proof that you were forced to act in a way that led to grand theft, you cannot bear responsibility for the crime.

  • False Accusations

In California, many people get falsely accused and convicted of grand theft. This can result from business deals that get out of hand or just a mistake made. If you are facing grand theft charges, it is vital to have competent legal representation.


Offenses Charged Alongside or Instead of Grand Theft

In most cases, grand theft is committed alongside other offenses. Sometimes a grand theft would be reduced to a lesser charge depending on the circumstances of your case. The following are common offenses charged together with grand theft:

Wrong Use of Public Funds

Under California Penal Code section 424, you will be accused of misappropriation of public funds when you use these funds or give them to someone else without permission to do so. You are likely to face these charges if you are a government-employed professional who has control over the public funds. When you take federal funds or property valued at $950 or more, you will get charged with both grand theft and misappropriation of public funds. However, a conviction for this offense carries more severe penalties of up to four years of a prison sentence.


You commit a theft when you acquire property belonging to someone else without their consent. An act of robbery can be undertaken with the use of force or fear to take away the property. You might face both robbery and grand theft charges if the property took property worth $950 or more from the victim of your actions. Under California Penal Code 487 robbery is charged as a felony which could see you spend between two to six years in prison. Also, theft is considered a strike offense under the Three Strikes Law. With the help of a competent criminal defense attorney, you can fight for a reduction of the charge to grand theft, which is not a strike offense.


Under Penal Code 459, burglary is entering another person's building with the intent to commit theft. If the place you came to commit the offense was a vehicle, you would be charged with grand theft auto. If you illegally enter an enclosure ad take property worth $950 or more, you will face both grand theft and burglary charges.

You may still get charged with burglary charges even if you don't succeed in carrying out the theft. In California, burglary is charged as a felony that carries a sentence of three years in jail and up to six years if you entered an inhabited premise. Using firearms to commit burglary will cause an increase in the penalties to a seven years maximum prison sentence.

Grand Theft Auto

Grand Theft Auto is an offense where the item in question is an automobile. However, this offense carries a different penalty to the ordinary grand theft charge. Under California criminal law, grand theft auto can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances of the case as well as your criminal history. A conviction for grand theft auto carries a maximum sentence of three years.


You will get charged for fraud if:

  • You fake another person's handwriting or seal
  • You sign a document in another person's name without their permission
  • Falsify a document partaking to money to make it look legal
  • You preset a fake report with the intent to commit fraud against someone else

Most people who commit grand theft can take other people's property by falsifying documents or impersonating the victim. When you are charged with grand theft, it is highly likely that you face forgery charges as well. Violating of Penal Code 470 of California can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. If you have a criminal history or a repeat offender, you will be charged with a felony that carries a maximum of three years jail sentence.

On the other hand, a misdemeanor forgery offense is punishable by a sentence of up to three years in jail. The penalty for forgery will be added to the penalties you face for violating Penal Code 487 of California.

Petty Theft

You violate California Penal Code 488 by taking property that does not belong to you by use of force or fear. To be charged with petty theft, the value of the property you acquired should be less than $950. Also, if the value of the property in question is in dispute, you can argue that you committed a petty theft, which is a lesser offense.

If you are facing grand theft charges, your attorney may help you to reduce the charge to a petty theft possibly. Penal Code 488 is a misdemeanor whose potential penalty is up to $1000 in fines, six months in county jail or both. If you have a prior conviction for grand theft, the sentences after a conviction will be harsher. You will be charged with petty theft with an advance if you have been convicted for fraud against an older adult in the past. Also, this might be the case for individuals with a sex offender registration or were convicted of felony murder.

Fight Grand Theft Charges with a California Criminal Lawyer Near Me

A grand theft conviction on your record will have both personal and professional repercussions. However, getting charged with this offense does not always mean that you will get convicted. With the help of your criminal defense attorney, you can present the following defenses. Claiming that the amount you took does not qualify to be charged as grand theft and arguing that you were falsely accused among others. A successful defense could possibly help lessen the penalties that accompany a conviction for grand theft. To discuss more details of your case, contact the California Criminal Lawyer Group at 408-622-0204 today.