California Penal Code Sections 484 defines the elements of, and penalties for petty theft. Petty theft - which includes shoplifting - is any taking of property valued at $400 or less. Penalties for a first time petty theft include probation, restitution, work project, counseling, fines up to $1000, and/or jail time of up to six months.
Most petty thefts are charged as misdemeanors. However, if the value of the property taken is $50 or less, prosecutors have discretion to charge the crime as an infraction as long as the defendant has no previous theft convictions. An infraction is a preferable outcome for the defendant since it requires no jail time and has a maximum fine of $250.
On the other hand, the district attorney also has discretion to charge a petty theft offense as a felony if the defendant has previous theft convictions. Because the charging of a petty theft varies with the circumstances of the alleged crime, the criminal record of the defendant, and the disposition of the prosecutor, it's vital for you to be represented by an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
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