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California’s Grand Theft Law - Penal Code 487

Theft is the taking of any form of valuable property from another without permission and with the intent to permanently deprive the victim of the value of the property. California's criminal law provisions differentiate between different degrees of theft. Theft can be either “grand” or “petite.”

In de minimus cases involving small loss amounts with retail merchant victims, the case may even be referred to as “shoplifting,” and not formally called theft at all. This article focuses on the more serious form of theft under California law known as grand theft, as defined by Penal Code Section 487.

Penal Code 487 defines grand theft as a theft of real property, personal property, labor, or money from another individual with a loss amount of $950 or more. Losses under $950 are defined as petite theft.

Grand theft is a catchall crime used to prosecute many forms of theft, whether accomplished by fraud, trick, or physically taking items without consent. For this reason, it is not uncommon to see someone charged with grand theft under PC 487 and also simultaneously face fraud related charges for embezzlement, theft by false pretenses, insurance fraud, healthcare fraud, real estate fraud, worker's compensation fraud, credit card fraud, sales tax violations, or other financial crimes.

Grand Theft Case Example

The following scenarios would all qualify as grand theft. Imagine that the defendant walks into a clothing store, selects a $1,000 pair of sunglasses, and walks out of the front door without paying. The defendant is guilty of grand theft as the sunglasses were valued at over $950.

In another scenario, the defendant routinely takes money from the cash register at work and puts it in his own wallet. Over the course of several months, the defendant accumulates $975 of money that should have gone to his employer. The defendant, also guilty of embezzlement, is guilty of grand theft.

In a third situation, the defendant operates a telemarketing scam which preys upon elderly citizens by falsely promising to fix their computers. He scams 10 different victims to the tune of $100 each. In the aggregate, the loss amount is $1,000, meaning the defendant is guilty of grand theft.

Penalties for PC 487 Grand Theft

Grand theft is typically a wobbler under California's criminal laws, meaning it can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Which version of grand theft the prosecuting agency chooses to pursue is a matter of discretion and depends largely on the loss amount, the specific circumstances surrounding the theft, and the defendant's prior criminal history, if any.

If prosecuted as a misdemeanor, a grand theft conviction for the defendant can result in up to one year in the county jail plus fines, fees, and payment of victim restitution.

If prosecuted as a felony, a grand theft conviction is punishable by 16 months, two years, or three years in the California state prison. Significant sentencing enhancements leading to extended state prison sentences apply in cases where the loss amount exceeds certain statutory thresholds.

Where the loss amount exceeds $65,000, a one-year enhancement applies. If the loss is over $200,000, a two-year enhancement applies. If over $1,300,000, the loss amount enhancement is three years. Finally, a four-year sentencing enhancement applies if the loss amount exceeds $3,200,000.

Defenses for Grand Theft Charges

Several defenses are common in Penal Code Section 487 grand theft cases. First, the defendant must have had the intent to permanently deprive his or her victim or victims of their valuable property.

In some cases, the defendant can persuasively argue that he or she had no intent to wrongfully take property or that he or she intended to return it. This might apply in cases involving allegedly fraudulent investments where the defendant can show that he or she had a bona fide intent to repay the investors.

The so-called “claim of right” defense also applies to a grand theft charge under Penal Code Section 487. Under this theory, the defendant must show that he or she had a good faith belief that he or she was entitled to the property taken.

This is most common in disputes over the ownership of a physical piece of property such as a vehicle or a valuable piece of jewelry. Even if the defendant was ultimately legally incorrect about the disposition of the property, a good-faith belief in ownership is a defense to a charge of grand theft.

Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney

If you, or someone you know, is under investigation for or has already been charged with grand theft under California Penal Code Section 487, contact our experienced team of Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys immediately for a consultation. We can help you to maximize the chances of a successful outcome in your case.

Through pre-filing intervention, we might be able to negotiate with the prosecutor to avoid the formal filing of criminal charges. Early intervention into your case by our law firm can be crucial to the outcome of the case. We have a track record of success in all types of theft crime cases.

Eisner Gorin LLP is a top-ranked criminal law firm located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067. We need to first review all the details of your case in order to develop a strategy for best possible outcome. Contact our firm for a consultation at (877) 781-1570.

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