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Is Theft A Felony in California?

On Behalf of | Oct 25, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Theft is one of the most common property crimes committed in California, making up a bulk of convictions in the state. The sentencing guidelines around theft vary from state to state, confusing as to whether theft convictions constitute a felony or a misdemeanor sentencing. Theft is a broad charge. Understanding the guidelines and qualifications for a felony conviction resulting from a theft charge is the first step toward understanding any type of theft conviction.

What Is “Theft?”

California law defines a theft charge as any property seizure gained illegally. Theft includes stealing from a home, business, person, or vehicle. This means that you would be stealing if you took something from someone’s house or automobile without getting permission first. The severity and length of the punishments will depend on how much was taken, making each instance of theft unique. The same legal procedures in classic theft cases apply to fraud charges, such as forging papers, identity theft, or the misappropriation of cash or funds intended for a specific purpose but not used for that reason. These instances can be punished similarly to property theft accusations.

Is Theft a Violent Crime?

Depending on the type of theft crime, the official determination as to whether the crime is violent or nonviolent rests on the overall charge. For example, property crimes like petty theft, Grand Theft Auto, or burglary are typically considered non-violent crimes, resulting in a lesser sentence and misdemeanor charges. On the other hand, crimes like robbery, which use the threat of force to coerce the apprehension of goods, are considered violent crimes.

Differences Between Theft, Burglary, and Robbery

Although theft, burglary, and robbery may seem like multiple terms for the same act, they differ drastically in their legal definitions. The basis of these crimes lies in the act of theft, which is generally defined as stealing belongings. But the intent and impact of these crimes on the people they are committed against create a more nuanced sentence. Here are the biggest differences between them:

  • Theft: Theft can range dramatically based on the value of the items taken and the number of items stolen. Petty theft, which primarily refers to shoplifting, is the act of stealing property worth less than $950. Theft of over $950 in items is considered grand theft, and it can be a felony or a misdemeanor. This is largely dependent on the effect the theft of the goods has on the legal owner from a monetary standpoint. Theft of any type of vehicle is the focus of grand theft auto accusations, which can result in misdemeanor or felony penalties as well.
  • Burglary: Burglary is the deliberate breaking into a private residence, business, or vehicle with the intent of committing theft. The consequences of a burglary charge might vary depending on how serious the accusation is. For instance, a six-year prison term may be imposed for first-degree burglary, which happens when someone enters a house or any other establishment that is currently occupied. Second-degree burglary, which includes other types of theft, has a required one-year jail term.
  • Robbery: It is unlawful to seize another person’s property against their will using force or threats, and doing so will end in a robbery conviction. The major difference between robbery and other forms of theft is the intent behind the event. You must have made up your mind to commit robbery before stealing the object to be guilty. Robbery is also considered a violent crime due to the use of violence as a method of coercing the goods in question out of the possession of their owners, making it punishable on the felony level.

Although all considered theft, it is crucial to understand the differences presented by each charge when going through the trial process. A charge for petty theft is drastically different from robbery, and this is crucial information to be clear on before reaching out for legal services.


Q: Is theft a misdemeanor in California?

A: California Penal Code Section 484 outlines the sentencing guidelines for petty theft, which determine that any stolen goods valued at less than $950 are considered an instance of petty theft, which is a misdemeanor. The value and number of items stolen will be the main determining factor for sentencing in instances of theft, with larger amounts or values leading to harsher sentences.

Q: Is petty theft a felony in California?

A: California’s laws on petty theft automatically make it punishable as a misdemeanor based on the value and amount of property involved in the incident. For those previously convicted of felony theft charges looking to possibly have their convictions brought down to the misdemeanor level, Proposition 47’s guidelines on petty theft may apply.

Q: What’s the punishment for theft in California?

A: Depending on the escalation of the charges, theft convictions can range from probation to jail time and thousands of dollars in fines. Petty theft, grand theft, grand theft auto, burglary, and robbery all carry different sentencing and different escalation levels based on whether the crime was considered violent, as well as the amount of and value placed on the stolen goods.

Q: Is theft a felony or misdemeanor?

A: Because of the range in sentencing, the escalation of theft charges is based on the original crimes committed. For example, petty theft charges are always considered misdemeanors due to sentencing guidelines in California’s Penal Code. In contrast, larger, violent crimes like grand theft, auto, or first-degree burglary can be prosecuted at the felony level.

Finding Legal Representation for Theft Charges

Regardless of whether your theft charges are considered felonies or misdemeanors, the first step you should take after being convicted of any criminal charge is contacting a lawyer. Theft charges can range in severity depending on the exact conviction and terminology used in sentencing. With the right legal team, this process can be a lot easier to handle. At Exum Law Offices, we are well-equipped to handle any theft case, regardless of its severity. To start working on your defense, visit our website and contact us today.