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Understanding theft charges

On Behalf of | Jan 18, 2024 | blog, Criminal Defense

People commonly refer to taking someone else’s property as stealing. However, the law has many other terms for it, depending on the circumstances and severity of the crime.

If a prosecutor accuses you of theft, preparing a good defense depends on knowing the legal consequences associated with the specific charge you are facing.


Burglary involves unlawfully entering a building with the intent to commit a crime, typically theft. Unlike other theft charges, burglary focuses on the act of breaking and entering. The severity of the offense may increase if the burglary occurs in a dwelling, such as a house, compared to a non-residential structure.


The use of force or threat turns theft into robbery. Unlike burglary, which emphasizes unlawful entry, robbery centers on confrontation. It involves taking other people’s property directly from them and instilling fear through force or intimidation.


Shoplifting occurs when an individual takes merchandise from a retail establishment without paying for it. Unlike burglary and robbery, shoplifting typically involves a less confrontational approach, often characterized by concealment or simple removal of items.


Embezzlement is a white-collar crime where a person entrusted with someone else’s property, such as funds or assets, misappropriates or fraudulently uses those assets for personal gain. Unlike other theft charges, embezzlement often occurs within an employer-employee relationship.

Grand theft

Grand theft is a category that encompasses theft of significant value, usually involving a specific type of item or exceeding a monetary threshold. The severity of the charge depends on the value of the stolen property. There are various forms, such as grand theft auto or grand theft larceny.

Petty theft

In contrast to grand theft, petty theft involves stealing property with a lower monetary value. Petty theft may include pickpocketing or stealing small, unattended items from a public place such as a laundromat or restaurant.

Penalties for theft in California include fines and jail time, even for petty theft.