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Petty Theft Law & Defense

Penal Codes 484, 488, & 490.1(a)

The law on the crime of petty theft is found at California penal code sections 484, 488 and 490.1(a).

In order for the district attorney to prove that the defendant is guilty of petty theft under PC 484 or 488, the district attorneys will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant took property or money with a value less than $950 from another person or business with the intent to never return the property or money.

Petty theft charged under PC 484 or 488 is distinguished from grand theft by value. Any theft under $950 dollars is considered petty theft and is usually charged under PC 484 or 488. Grand theft is usually charged under California penal code section 484(a) or 487, or some other penal code section depending on the items that were stolen and how the items were stolen.

When petty theft is from a commercial store and the value of the item stolen is under fifty dollar ($50) the charge is filed under PC 490.1(a) or PC 484/490.1(a).

Property, for purposes of PC 488 can be any tangible item like clothing, books, cells phones, etc. Money can be actual cash or some form of credit such as a credit cards or gift cards. However, theft of credit cards is usually charged as acquiring credit card or bank card without permission PC 484e.

To take property from another person means that the defendant actually physically took the property or money from another person, as opposed to converting the property by fraud or embezzlement.

For example, if the defendant used fraud to trick under person into giving the defendant the victim's money then the defendant may be charged with petty theft under PC 488 (assuming the value of the loss to the victim was under $950), but the more common charge in this situation would be theft by false pretenses (PC 532).

Also, if the defendant was already in possession of money or property that belonged to another person, but the defendant converted the money or property to his or her personal use without permission and with having the intent to never return the property or money, then petty theft may be charged under PC 484(a) or 488, but the more common charged in this situation would be embezzlement.

Also, petty theft is not usually charged where the defendant enters a store to commit a theft of property with a value less than $950. Under this circumstance the defendant is usually charged with commercial burglary (PC 459). Also, where the defendant uses force against a person to commit theft of any amount the criminal charge is robbery.

Punishment & Sentence for PC 484(a) & 488

The crime of petty theft is charged as a misdemeanor in California. If the defendant is found guilty of petty theft under PC 484(A) or 488, he or she may face up to 180 days in the county jail.

Probation Sentence: It is common that a defendant convicted of petty theft under PC 484(a) or 488 will receive probation without jail. Or, if jail is required, the defendant will usually be afforded the opportunity to serve the jail sentence by electronic monitoring (house arrest) or work release. Whether or not a probation sentence without jail is available in any particular petty theft case depends largely on the defendant's criminal history and the facts of the case.

Moral Turpitude Crime: PC 484(a) and 488 are both considered crimes of moral turpitude, which means the crimes are considered morally wrong. Crimes of moral turpitude carry special punishments for immigrants and licensed professionals (i.e. doctors, lawyers, dentists, nurses, etc.).

Collateral Punishment for Petty Theft

In addition to any actual jail time that the defendant may face, if convicted of petty theft charges filed under PC 484(a) or 488, the defendant will also face penalty fines, restitution to victims, restraining orders, harsh probation terms, and more.

Defense to PC 484(a) & 488 (Petty Theft)

Common defenses to a criminal charge of petty theft include, insufficient evidence to prove guilt, insanity, statute of limitations (one year from the date of the alleged petty theft), mistake of fact, coerced confessions, consent,  and more.

Post PC 484(a) & 488 Conviction Relief

Expungement of Petty Theft Convictions: Petty theft crimes charged under PC 484(a) and 488 may be removed (expunged) from the defendant's criminal record after the defendant fulfills the terms of his or her probation.

Termination of Probation: Defendants who are placed on probation after a conviction of petty theft (PC 484(a) or 488) may petition the court to have his or her probation terminated early for good cause.

Violation of Petty Theft Probation: In situations where the defendant did not fulfill the terms of his or her probation the defendant may request a reinstatement of the original terms of probation (without an imposition of a revocation of probation). Whether or not the judge will be amenable to such a request depends largely on the nature of the violation and the egregiousness of the defendant's conduct. 

To learn more about California petty theft crimes, or penal codes 484(a) and 488, contact our criminal defense attorneys today for a free and private consultation. Our criminal attorneys dedicate 100% of their practice to criminal defense and our office available 24/7 to answer all your questions. Call today! 


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Petty Theft Defense PC 484(a), 488, & 490.1(a)


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PC 484(a), 488 & 490.1(a): Petty Theft Crimes

  • Arson
  • Assault
  • Battery
  • BUI
  • Burglary
  • Conspiracy
  • Criminal Threats
  • Domestic Battery
  • DUI
  • Elder Theft
  • Embezzlement
  • False Personation
  • False Pretenses
  • Fraud
  • Grand Theft
  • Identity Theft
  • Kidnapping
  • Manslaughter
  • Perjury
  • Petty Theft
  • Rape
  • Reckless Burning
  • Resisting Arrest
  • Robbery
  • Shoplifting
  • Vandalism
  • Vehicle Theft
  • Welfare Fraud


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Other Common Theft Crimes


Robbery PC 211

Grand Theft PC 484, 487

Vehicle Theft VC 10851(a)

Burglary PC 459

Commercial Burglary PC 459

Embezzlement PC 503

Fraud PC 550 

Identity Theft PC 530

Access Card Theft PC 484e


California Petty Theft Law & Defense / Penal Code 484(a)488, 490.1(a), & 484/490.1(a)-M

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