Petty Theft with a Prior

Petty theft is a misdemeanor that can be reduced in some instances to an infraction, which is not a criminal offense carries no criminal penalties other than a fine. However, if you have committed a theft offense involving property of minor value but have a prior record of at least one other theft offense, you may face considerable harsher penalties and consequences.

Under California Penal Code Section 666 (PC 666), a prior theft offense can enhance your current petty theft offense to a felony or it can remain a misdemeanor. This is referred to as a “wobbler” if f your offense fits within certain criteria.

Elements of Petty Theft with a Prior

A petty theft consists of the elements of:

  • Unlawfully taking the property of another
  • With a value of $950 or less
  • With the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property for a period long enough so that the owner suffers a loss of certain benefit or value.

If you have a prior theft conviction, that prior must have resulted in imprisonment. Theft offenses that generally result in incarceration include:

  • Some petty theft offenses
  • Robbery
  • Burglary
  • Grand theft
  • Theft of a firearm or auto
  • Carjacking
  • Receiving stolen property.

To face harsher penalties under PC 666, you must have had either of the following:

  • 3 convictions of one of the above offenses of which one must have resulted in jail time.
  • One of these convictions and either a serious felony such as being a registered sex offender or one involving violence. Robbery, gun crimes and carjacking are serious felonies involving violence.

The prosecution has to prove all of these elements including your 3 convictions or of one conviction and a sex crime where you must register as a sex offender or a serious felony, or a “Strike,” involving violence.

Defenses to Petty Theft with a Prior

As with petty theft, your defenses include those involving the current petty offense and those involving your prior or priors:

  • False accusation
  • Lack of intent to steal
  • Reasonable belief the property belonged to you
  • Reasonable belief the owner consented to your taking ownership
  • You do not have 3 previous theft offenses or one along with a serious felony

You also have the right to bifurcate your trial or divide it into separate trials. The first trial is to prove you committed the petty theft. The second is to prove that you committed 3 prior theft offenses or one and a serious felony to be eligible for an enhanced sentence under PC 666.


The prosecutor has the option of charging you with a felony or a misdemeanor if you qualify under PC 666. The prosecutor will look at the circumstances of the present offense and your criminal history to make this determination.

If a felony, you face state prison time of 16 months, 2 years or three years.

If a misdemeanor, you face up to one year in jail and a possible fine of $1,000.

Immigration Warning

Under federal immigration law, an alien or permanent resident faces deportation if convicted under PC 666. If you were convicted of a theft offense for which the penalty was imprisonment of at least one year within 5 years of admission to the U.S., you could face deportation and not be eligible for cancellation of removal relief.

Call the Law Offices of Ramiro J. Lluis

Facing a charge of petty theft with a prior can result in serious prison time and have consequences that can seriously affect your life. If you have been charged with a petty theft with a prior, call the Law Offices of Ramiro J. Lluis today for a free, confidential initial consultation at (213) 687-4412.