The elements of the crime of grand theft (Penal Code section 487(a)) are identical to that of petty theft, except that grand theft requires the value of the property to be valued at $950 or more. In situations where multiple items are taken from the owner (business), if the sum (total) value of the items is $950, then grand theft can be charged.
Grand theft can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. If charged and the defendant is convicted of a misdemeanor, the penalties have the same range as petty theft, imposition of summary probation and up to one-year custody in county jail, along with fines/fees and restitution (if any). If charged and convicted of a felony, the person may either receive a term of formal probation (a probation officer is assigned to the defendant) and in addition to fines/fees, up to one year of custody in county jail. If probation is denied, the defendant is facing confinement in state prison for 16 months, 2 years or 3 years.
As with petty theft offenses, the possible defenses to grand theft charges are the same but given the “$950 or more” requirement, issues on the value of the property are important to consider. For example, the property owner may attribute an erroneous value or highly inflate the actual value of the stolen property. In these situations, the valuation of the property will be determined by the price tag of comparable or similar items, or simply the “fair market value” of the property.
What often distinguishes a felony filing from a misdemeanor filing is that a felony case usually involves:
- a higher degree of sophistication employed by the defendant (tremendous planning and deception techniques used)
- a longer period of time over which the thefts occurred (perhaps months or years)
- the loss to the victim is substantially over $950 (in the thousands, tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars).
- a “trust” relationship existed between the defendant and the victim (employee/employer)
- the defendant has a prior theft-related conviction or lengthy criminal history
In any case involving grand theft, an experienced attorney can help a client evaluate options whether it relates to a specific defense argument or to explore “damage control” options. As to the latter, where the dollar value loss to the victim is substantial, it could prove to be very helpful if the client is able to repay some or all of the money back to the victim. This particular approach must be addressed carefully with the prosecutor and with sensitivity to the victim. Finally, the attorney may be able to negotiate terms with the prosecutor that include a reduction of the felony to a misdemeanor conviction and/or early termination of probation, after the client performs and completes certain obligations, such as payment of restitution (see Alternative Sentencing).