Lainie Kazan, an actress popular for her role in the hit movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, was recently arrested for stealing food from a San Fernando Valley grocery store. Reports say that Kazan entered the store, filled up reusable shopping bags with groceries, and then immediately walked to her car without paying for the items. When police arrived on the scene she was found with approximately $200 worth of groceries in her possession and no receipt for their purchase. She was arrested and charged with petty theft.
Crimes of Theft
When you hear that a person has been accused of theft you probably envision someone physically stealing personal property. While this kind of behavior is definitely classified as “theft,” there are actually many different ways to commit a crime of theft in California. You can be charged with theft for committing the following acts:
- Larceny (physically taking personal property from another person without consent);
- Trick (deceiving the owner of property into letting you take property);
- False Pretense (lying to convince another person to give you their property); and
- Embezzlement (taking property entrusted to you).
Crimes of theft are generally split into two different categories: petty theft and grand theft. The defining characteristic of each crime of theft is the value of the property that is stolen. You will face charges for petty theft under Penal Code Sections 484(a) and 488 PC when the property you steal is valued at $950 or less. It does not matter if the property is the personal belongings of another person, groceries from a market, clothing from a retail store, or cash. As long as you have deprived another person of the enjoyment and benefit of their own property valued at $950 or less without their consent, you will face charges for petty theft.
How is Petty Theft Different from Shoplifting?
In California, petty theft and shoplifting are similar, but distinct, crimes. Prior to 2014, the crimes were actually charged under the same section of the Penal Code. That year, voters passed Proposition 47, which required shoplifting to be classified as its own separate offense.
Petty theft is a broader crime, covering a wide range of criminal behavior. Any time you intentionally take property (valued at less than or equal to $950) from another person without their permission you commit petty theft. Shoplifting is a narrowly defined crime and can only apply in very specific situations. Shoplifting occurs when you enter a commercial establishment during normal business hours with the specific intent to commit petty theft. The most important thing to understand is that you must enter the store with the intent to steal. If you enter a store, subsequently decide to pocket a few items, and then leave, you will face charges for petty theft.
What are the Penalties for Petty Theft?
Petty theft is classified as a misdemeanor offense in California. If you are convicted of petty theft you can face a criminal sentence that includes any or all of the following punishments:
- Up to six months in a Los Angeles County jail,
- $1,000 in criminal fines,
- Summary probation,
- Community service, and
- Restitution to the victim.
In some cases, you may be eligible for reduced penalties and be able to keep the charges for petty theft off of your criminal record. If this is your first theft-related crime and the value of the stolen property is less than $50 a judge may be inclined to let you enter a diversion program. If the value of stolen property is greater than $50, but still less than $950, you may still be able to argue that the diversion program would be beneficial in your particular situation. If you are granted entry into the diversion program you will be required to perform community service, pay restitution, and complete anti-theft classes. Once the program is successfully completed the petty theft charge will be dismissed.
How Can I Defend Against Charges of Petty Theft?
The prosecution will have to prove each and every element of the crime in order to get a conviction. The best way to defend yourself is by using arguments that (a) cast doubt on your guilt and (b) make it difficult for the prosecution to prove the elements of the crime. The more successful your arguments, the greater the chances of securing a plea deal or getting the charges dismissed. Defenses that may be helpful in a Los Angeles petty theft case include:
- Lack of intent,
- Lack of knowledge,
- Mistaken belief you had permission to take the property,
- Mistaken belief you owned the property,
- False accusation, or
- Discovery of evidence through an illegal search or arrest.
Fighting Petty Theft Charges in Los Angeles
Have you been arrested for petty theft in Los Angeles? If so, do not hesitate to contact criminal defense lawyer Ambrosio Rodriguez for immediate legal assistance. As a former prosecutor, Mr. Rodriguez has seen, first-hand, the devastating consequences of a petty theft conviction. When you hire him to defend you, Mr. Rodriguez will aggressively advocate for your rights and fight to get the best possible result in your case. Call the Rodriguez Law Group today to set up a free consultation and learn more about how we can help you.
The Rodriguez Law Group
626 Wilshire Blvd #460
Los Angeles, CA 90017