Petty Theft

Petty theft is usually associated with the offense of shoplifting. It is a property crime and involves taking something that belongs to another or from a department store if someone is shoplifting. It could be merely pocketing a candy bar or some other small item but it is a misdemeanor and a criminal offense.

Petty theft also comes in different forms.

Elements of the Crime

Petty theft has five main elements:

  • Unlawful taking of property that belongs to someone else
  • Without permission to take the item
  • To permanently deprive the owner of it or for a long enough period for the owner to suffer some loss of value
  • And the item was moved for any distance and possessed for any length of time
  • The item is valued at $950 or less

Taking anything of value worth more than $950 is a felony offense. Also, if you steal a firearm or motor vehicle regardless of its value, it is a felony.

Related Charges

Theft by Trick:

Some shoplifters attempt to steal an item by switching price tags, which is obtaining property through deceit. If you meet all the other elements of petty theft, you have committed this offense. Ownership of the item is not transferred in this circumstance.


This is a financial crime whereby some item, usually money, is taken by someone who is in a position of trust and uses it for his or her own purposes. It is not a defense that you intended to refund or return the money and was only “borrowing” it while depriving the owner of the ability to use the money.

Theft by false pretenses:

This is usually a false document like a fake ID card or note that was forged or fabricated, or making a statement you knew to be false with the intent to deceive someone. The victim must have relied on your false information or pretense as well.


There are defenses to petty theft:

  • You did not intend to take the item. For example, an item was forgotten and placed in a basket along with others that were paid for.
  • You were stopped before leaving the store and accused of shoplifting.
  • You took an item with the consent of the owner or reasonably believed so.
  • You reasonably believed the property belonged to you.
  • You had no knowledge you had the item on your person.


Petty theft is a misdemeanor. The penalties include:

  • County jail for up to 6 months and/or,
  • A fine up to $1,000 and/or,
  • Probation

First-time offenders generally receive a fine, community service and no jail time.

If you are a first-time offender, you may be eligible for diversion whereby the offense is reduced to an infraction, which is not a criminal offense. This is available only if you have to prior offenses and the item taken had a value of $50 or less.

You may be able to qualify for diversion if the item’s value was more than $50 in some cases. You will still have to pay a fine, repay the owner for the value of the property, participate in community service and in anti-theft classes.

Immigration Warnings

Aliens and permanent residents should be wary of any theft offenses if considered an aggravated felony. If the sentence for a theft offense if at least one year, it is considered an aggravated felony pursuant to federal immigration law.

If the sentence is imprisonment for less than one year, it is still a crime of moral turpitude but is not an aggravated felony for purposes of the immigration laws and the alien or permanent resident should try to obtain a cancellation of removal so as not to face possible deportation.

Call the Law Offices of Ramiro J. Lluis

Any criminal offense can have consequences that can alter your life. If you have been charged with a petty theft offense, call the Law Offices of Ramiro J. Lluis today for a free, confidential initial consultation at (213) 687-4412.