A typical theft occurs when a person takes property belonging to another with the intent to permanently deprive that person of said property. Thefts are divided into two main categories: grand theft and petty theft. Petty thefts typically occur when the value of the property taken does not exceed $950, and, with minor exceptions, are misdemeanors punishable by a maximum jail sentence of 6 months and/or a $1,000 fine. When the value of the property taken is less than $50 and the offender has no other theft-related convictions, the prosecution can elect to charge the offense as a misdemeanor or an infraction. If an infraction is charged under Penal Code section 490.1(a), the maximum penalty is a fine of $250. Grand theft is defined in Penal Code section 487(a), and typically applies when the value of the property taken is above $950, and in other specific situations even when the property is below the $950 threshold (e.g., if an automobile is taken, or if the property taken is from the “person of another”, such as in a purse-snatching). Most first-time petty theft offenders (above $50) are required to be on probation, ordered to stay-away from the location of arrest, and may be required to do labor or jail depending on the nature of the theft. Grand theft may be prosecuted as either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the nature of the theft.
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