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Petty Theft with a Prior

Petty Theft with a Prior- Penal Code 666 PC

On its own, petty theft in California (i.e., stealing something valued at $950 or less) is considered a minor offense. Under Penal Code 484(a) PC, petty theft is a misdemeanor that is punishable by up to 6 months in jail—and in many cases, a defendant serves probation instead of jail time. 

However, subsequent petty theft offenses often result in enhanced penalties under Penal Code 666 PC. This is commonly known as "petty theft with a prior." If you meet the criteria of criminal charges under PC 666, a petty theft conviction could result in up to three years in state prison.

Petty Theft with a Prior- Penal Code 666 PC
Petty theft in California means stealing someone's property or services worth $950 or less.

In other words, PC 666 PC is the charge commonly filed when you commit petty theft with a criminal record that includes certain prior convictions. A petty theft with a prior charge can be a misdemeanor or a felony.

As noted, petty theft involves stealing property or services worth $950 or less. Under Penal Code 266, you will receive a sentencing enhancement for petty theft when you have a prior conviction for a theft crime, have served time in jail for the conviction, and have a prior conviction for either a violent offense or a specific sex crime.

PC 666 says, "(a) Notwithstanding Section 490, any person described in subdivision (b) who, having been convicted of petty theft, grand theft, a conviction pursuant to subdivision (d) or (e) of Section 368, auto theft under Section 10851 of the Vehicle Code, burglary, carjacking, robbery, or a felony violation of Section 496, and has served a term of imprisonment therefor in any penal institution or having been imprisoned therein as a condition of probation for that offense, and who is subsequently convicted of petty theft, is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison.

(b) Subdivision (a) shall apply to any person who is required to register pursuant to the Sex Offender Registration Act or who has a prior violent or serious felony conviction, as specified in clause (iv) of subparagraph (C) of paragraph (2) of subdivision (e) of Section 667, or has a conviction pursuant to subdivision (d) or (e) of Section 368.

(c) This section shall not be construed to preclude prosecution or punishment pursuant to subdivisions (b) to (i), inclusive, of Section 667 or Section 1170.12."

What Constitutes Petty Theft with a Prior?

Generally speaking, "petty theft with a prior" refers to being convicted of petty theft when you have a prior theft-related conviction on your record. 

Many states have enhanced sentencing for petty theft defendants who have stolen in the past, and each state has differing criteria for what qualifies a defendant for enhanced sentencing. 

California's standards are comparatively generous regarding enhanced sentencing in that it takes more than just a prior petty theft conviction to qualify. 

Under PC 666, petty theft with a prior only applies if you have been convicted of at least two other qualifying crimes (including one theft crime) AND have served time in jail or prison. 

So, for example, if you were convicted of petty theft, were given probation, and then convicted of a second petty theft, you would not qualify for enhanced sentencing because you did not serve jail time for your first conviction.

What are the Criteria for Enhanced Penalties?

To be subjected to the enhanced penalties stipulated under PC 666, you must fulfill three specific criteria:

You must have a prior theft conviction in California

To face penalties under this statute, you must first have had at least one prior conviction for a California theft crime and served a jail or prison term. The theft crimes include the following:

  • Penal Code 484(a) PC – petty theft law makes it a crime to steal someone's property or services valued at $950 or less. Claiming you intended to return the property is not a valid defense.
  • Penal Code 487 PC – grand theft is the unlawful taking of someone's property when it's valued at $950 or more.
  • Penal Code 496 PC – receiving stolen property (felony) means buying, receiving, concealing, or selling any property that you know is stolen.
  • Penal Code 459 PC – burglary,
  • Penal Code 211 PC – robbery,
  • Penal Code 215 PC – carjacking.

Crimes that qualify under this category involve the unlawful acquisition of personal property, shoplifting, or stealing a vehicle.

You must have gone to jail or prison for your prior conviction

On conviction of your theft crime, you must have served a term of imprisonment in a penal institution or been imprisoned as a condition of probation for your previous theft offense. 

If you were granted probation only, your prior theft conviction would not qualify you for enhanced penalties for the current conviction.

You must have a prior conviction for sex crime or certain felonies

Unique to California, an additional requirement for a petty theft sentencing enhancement is that you also have a prior conviction, either for a sex crime as outlined in the Sex Offender Registration Act or certain violent or serious felonies. Examples of qualifying felonies include:

  • Penal Code 187 PC - murder or attempted murder.
  • Penal Code 191.5 PC - gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
  • Solicitation to commit murder.
  • Possession of a weapon of mass destruction.
  • Rape or aggravated sexual assault or
  • Sexually violent offenses such as sex crimes committed by use of force, violence, or threat of bodily injury.
  • Sex crimes against a minor under the age of 14.
  • Any felony punishable by death or life imprisonment.

What are the Consequences of Petty Theft with a Prior?

If you are charged under Penal Code 666 PC, the petty theft offense is no longer treated simply as a misdemeanor but as a "wobbler" offense. 

Depending on your criminal history and the case specifics, the offense can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. This flexibility gives prosecutors significant discretion in how they choose to charge repeat offenders. The potential penalties are as follows:

  • Misdemeanor Charge: If charged as a misdemeanor, you face up to one year in county jail if convicted.
  • Felony Charge: If the offense is charged as a felony, you could face a state prison sentence ranging from 16 months to three years.

What are the Common Defenses?

If you're charged with petty theft with a prior, a skilled California criminal defense attorney can implement specific defense strategies to combat the charges and minimize your sentencing. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Lack of Intent: You had no criminal intent to commit theft—in other words, the item was taken by mistake or through a misunderstanding.
  • No Qualifying Priors: You may have committed petty theft, but your prior record does not qualify you for a sentencing enhancement.
  • Illegal Search and Seizure: If the evidence against you was obtained through an unlawful search or seizure, your attorney can have that evidence rendered inadmissible in court, which may result in reduced or dismissed charges.

The enhanced penalties will not be applied if you are not guilty of the underlying theft charge. Thus, perhaps we can prove you innocent of petty theft. Maybe we can show you were falsely accused and wrongfully arrested. Contact our law firm for more information. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, CA.

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