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What Is Petty Theft?

Winona Rider caught shoplifting on surveillance camera in 2002.

As a San Diego theft lawyer, petty theft is one of the most common charges I see filed in court. The offense is a basic one according to the law; taking the personal property of another person without their permission.

In California what makes a theft petty is only the dollar amount or value of the item taken. If the combined value taken is under $950 then the crime charged should be petty theft which is a misdemeanor.

The most serious problem that defendant’s face with petty theft crime cases is that it is a misdemeanor offense. People with professional licenses like nurses or accountants are under closer scrutiny than most of the public. If the state issued your license to practice in a certain field like pharmacy, then a petty theft charge could mean the loss of your livelihood.

Criminal Consequences

If the charge remains a misdemeanor and felony accusations are not added then the potential fines and jail time are not serious. Those with no prior criminal history can expect to pay a small fine, restitution of any item taken and perform some public works service like trash pickup.

Alternative Sentencing

For those people seeking relief from the usual course of the criminal courts being proactive can save your record. Intervention programs that involve theft education classes and volunteer work can be used in some petty theft cases.

There are many programs that can qualify a defendant for a deferred judgment. The most important aspect of such programs is that gives the accused a chance to maintain an otherwise clean criminal record. A deferred judgment means that a defendant is not sentenced for the crime they were charged with and no electronic record of conviction is created. In any criminal case when a person is sentenced the conviction is entered into the Department of Justice database. This information is accessible to any employer or school conducting a background check.

Professional Consequences

The State of California has a strict enforcement system for professionals that are licensed by the state. Anyone from lawyers to doctors and even real estate brokers can be punished separately from the criminal proceeding. Even when the district attorney dismisses a case the professional consequences can be lasting and devastating. The California Attorney General and the Business and Professions code bring a higher standard on those who receive specialized licenses from the State.

Nurses and most healthcare professionals are required to report any arrest even if criminal charges are not filed. Often the worst consequences come from a failure to report an arrest on time. Conviction’s for a petty theft charge can also bring disciplinary action form the Attorney General’s enforcement office. Every case and license type is different but criminal convictions for any theft are a unique category that put professionals under special scrutiny.

The most important factor in disciplinary actions initiated by the State is to be responsive and cooperative. Ignoring conduct letters and notices for hearings is the surest way to lose a lifetime worth of hard work.

The Law Office of George Gedulin offers live answering service 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week (858) 281-4605.