Los Angeles Petty Theft Lawyer

Petty Theft: Understanding California Penal Codes 484 and 488

Shoplifting, or “petty theft” as it is called under the California state penal code, is one of the most common reasons for arrests in any large city. In many cases, however, those charged with petty theft can have their cases disposed with only minor legal penalties.

Let’s take a closer look at California Penal Codes 484 and 488 and how they apply to those accused of theft.

California PC 484

State penal code 484 outlines the definition of theft as follows:

Every person who shall feloniously steal, take, carry, lead, or drive away the personal property of another, or who shall fraudulently appropriate property which has been entrusted to him or her, or who shall knowingly and designedly, by any false or fraudulent representation or pretense, defraud any other person of money, labor or real or personal property, or who causes or procures others to report falsely of his or her wealth or mercantile character and by thus imposing upon any person, obtains credit and thereby fraudulently gets or obtains possession of money, or property or obtains the labor or service of another, is guilty of theft. In determining the value of the property obtained, for the purposes of this section, the reasonable and fair market value shall be the test, and in determining the value of services received the contract price shall be the test. If there be no contract price, the reasonable and going wage for the service rendered shall govern. For the purposes of this section, any false or fraudulent representation or pretense made shall be treated as continuing, so as to cover any money, property or service received as a result thereof, and the complaint, information or indictment may charge that the crime was committed on any date during the particular period in question. The hiring of any additional employee or employees without advising each of them of every labor claim due and unpaid and every judgment that the employer has been unable to meet shall be prima facie evidence of intent to defraud.

While PC 484 provides the definition of theft in the state, two other codes deal with the scope of the offense. PC 487 defines what constitutes grand theft, while PC 488 defines what constitutes petty theft.

California PC 488: Petty Theft

Currently, petty theft applies when the monetary loss associated with the alleged theft is less than $950. For example, if a person is accused of taking a ring from a shop and not returning it, this would qualify as petty theft if the ring is valued at $950 or less.

Common Defenses Against Petty Theft Charges

Those charged with petty theft often choose to contest the charges by making the following defense claims:

  • The allegedly stolen item was a gift
  • The item was borrowed
  • The theft was based on a misunderstanding or occurred with the alleged victim’s agreement
  • The arrest was the result of an illegal search and seizure.

Because petty theft is a misdemeanor, maximum penalties are six months in jail or a $1,000 fine. In many cases (especially if the accused has a relatively clean record) probation is a likely outcome.


In order to provide the crime of Shoplifting under Penal Code § 459.5, a prosecutor must prove the following:

  1. The defendant entered a commercial establishment;
  2. When the defendant entered the commercial establishment, it was open during regular business hours; AND
  3. When (he/she) entered the commercial establishment, (he/she) intended to commit theft.

The defendant does not need to have actually committed theft as long as he/she entered with the intent to do so.


If convicted of Shoplifting under Penal Code § 459.5, you can be punished by a fine, probation and up to 6 months in county jail.

Pre-Plea Diversion

Where applicable, we can negotiate a disposition under the Pre-Plea diversion statute. Those who are deemed eligible for this program may be ordered to fulfill certain court mandated requirements such as restitution, community service and a class addressing the particular offense.  Upon successful completion and payment of any fines or restitution, the criminal charges are dismissed.  Under this type of resolution, our client avoids a criminal conviction.

Finding the Right Criminal Defense Attorney

At Goldstein Law, we zealously protect the rights of the accused. If you need a legal champion in your corner with the experience to tackle even the most complex cases, don’t hesitate to reach out today.