The Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

Defining Theft and Other Property Crimes

California's criminal code is long and complicated, with significant sections dedicated to property crimes.

Most of these offenses are lumped under "theft," but actually, there's no such offense as plain-old "theft" in the California Penal Code. Theft is the category name for property crimes, and it contains a list of offenses.

The legal differences between theft crimes are important because they affect how serious the sentence for each crime can be. So, what are the differences?

Property Crimes Are Divided by Danger

One way that these offenses are divided is by the amount of danger they pose to individuals. While theft is always a crime, the punishment varies based on the amount of physical harm the crime can cause.

Larceny is defined by taking another person's property without force or violence. Burglary is a more serious offense since by definition it involves attempting to or taking property from someone's home.

Force isn't required for burglary, but it is for robbery. That crime requires taking someone's property through the use or threat of force.

Property Crimes Are Divided by Value

The other way property crimes are defined is by the value of the goods taken. The more valuable the property that was stolen, the greater the potential punishment.

Petty theft in California involves stealing anything with a value of $950 or less. Shoplifting often falls into this category.

For theft of property with a value higher than $950, the charge is called grand theft and the punishment is generally harsher.

Other Property Crimes

Besides theft crimes, which involve the taking of someone's property, there are other crimes that can be committed against property.

Vandalism and destroying someone's property can both be charged as crimes. Dishonestly like embezzlement also falls within this category of crimes.

When you read in the news that things were stolen, knowing what the different crimes mean may make the story a little more interesting. If nothing else you'll know what awaits the suspect if he's convicted.

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