California Grand Larceny Laws, Charges and Statute of Penalties

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Grand larceny, which is referred to as grand theft in California, can involve property of various types, including money, personal property, real property and the value of labor and services. Grand larceny or grand theft can happen without the knowledge of the owner, but it also may occur where the owner entrusts property to you for an ongoing or temporary purpose, and then you fail to return the property.

In California, theft is classified as either grand theft or petty theft. The difference depends upon the underlying value of the property. In most cases, grand theft occurs where the property is worth more than $950, but some exceptions exist; for example, if the property taken is from the person or is a firearm, it can be charged as grand theft regardless of the value.

Some examples of crimes that could result in grand theft or grand larceny charges in California are:

  • Shoplifting a coat that is worth $1000
  • Embezzling $100,000 from your employer
  • Breaking into a home and stealing a TV and stereo worth $5000
  • Unusual crimes, such as stealing fruits or nuts worth more than $250; shellfish or aquaculture products worth more than $250
  • Stealing a horse

The theft and larceny laws of California are addressed in California Penal Code Section 484, Section 486, Section, Section 488, Section 489, and Section 490.

California Grand Larceny Conviction

To be convicted of grand theft or grand larceny in California, the prosecutor must prove all of the following:

  • You took possession of property that someone else owned
  • You did not receive consent to take the property
  • When you took the property, you had the intention to take in for good or for a long period of time
  • You moved the property and kept it

California Laws and Penalties

According to California Penal Code Section 487, grand theft or grand larceny in this state can be punished by a year in county jail, or a felony jail term of 6 months to three years. However, previous criminal convictions can cause the sentence to be increased. The court also may order that your sentence by served in state prison instead of county jail.

Petty theft in California may be punished by a fine of up to $1000, and a term in county jail of up to six months, or both. If the property was worth less than $50, the state prosecutor may change the crime to a misdemeanor. Your prior criminal history can affect the sentence recommended.

A major issue under the laws of California is the difference between misdemeanor and felony grand theft. Prosecutors in California have discretion when they file felony or misdemeanor charges. The decision on which to charge you with has to do with the value of the property; how the crime was allegedly done and whether violence was involved; and the criminal history of the person alleged to have committed the crime.

Grand Larceny Enhancement Penalties

Grand theft has several possible enhancements, per Section 487 of the California Penal Code:

  • An additional year in jail if the property is worth more than $65,000
  • An additional two years in jail if the property is worth more than $200,000
  • An additional three years in jail if the property is worth more than $1.3 million
  • An additional four years in jail if the property is worth more than $3.2 million

Bail for Grand Larceny Cases in California

There is no exact bail amount for grand theft or grand larceny cases in this state. Each county has its own bail schedule that will determine what you must pay to be released from jail pending trial. In Los Angeles County, you may have to pay bail of $1000 and make a court appearance. In San Luis Obispo County, you may have to pay bail ranging from $5000 to $30,000.

Legal Defenses to Grand Larceny Charges in California

Grand theft or grand larceny charges in this state are serious, but it is possible to defend yourself and have the charges dismissed. These are the most effective defenses against this serious crime:

  • No intent: The prosecution must prove that you intended to steal the property in any theft crime. If it cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that you intended to take the property, you cannot be convicted. For example, if you took a piece of jewelry from a friend worth $5000, you might argue that you thought it belonged to you, if you have a piece of jewelry that looks the same. This might sound like a stretch, but your defense attorney only needs to create reasonable doubt in the jury to get the case dismissed.
  • Consent from the property owner: If you had permission from the property owner to take the property, you cannot be found guilty of grand theft. A common situation is where a friend agrees to let someone borrow their car, but that person does not return the property on the day promised. A strong defense attorney may be able to argue that you intended to return the property on the date and time agreed but could not do so due to circumstances outside your control.
  • Thought the property belonged to you: It is not unusual for the accused to think that the property belonged to them. As noted above, you might think that the jewelry you took actually belonged to you.
  • False accusation: Your attorney may argue that you were wrongfully accused and did not take what has been alleged.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations for theft in California, including grand theft, can be one, three or four years, depending upon the case. Specifically, the statute of limitations depends upon the longest sentence that you can get for that theft crime. For grand theft, the statute of limitations is usually three or four years, and one year for petty theft.

CA Grand Larceny Cases

  • Ex-California Insurance Agent Sentenced for Grand Theft – Frederick D. Rollins from Moreno Valley, California was sentenced to a year in jail recently to one felony count of grand theft, two counts of securities fraud, and an aggravated white collar crime enhancement for stealing $100,000 in insurance premiums from at least 10 victims. He also has been ordered to pay $100,363 in restitution.
  • Ex-Beverly Hills Worker Pleads Guilty to Grand Theft – An ex-real estate and property manager in Beverly Hills, California pleaded guilty to grand theft related to lease payments that she did not collect from a tenant on a property owned by the city. Brenda Lavender, 52, was ordered to pay $100,000 in restitution to the city, serve three years probation and complete 192 hours of community service.
  • Man Charged with Grand Theft and Elder Abuse in Berkeley – A 29 year-old man has been charged with grand theft, assault and elder abuse of a 76 year old man who was walking on campus last week. He is alleged to have stolen the man’s cane and then assaulting him with it.


  • California Theft and Larceny Law. (n.d.). Retrieved from