Petit Larceny and Grand Larceny: What Are The Differences?

Not all acts of theft are charged the same way in the state of California. Petty theft charges in California prosecute theft of someone’s property or money and have a wide variety of guidelines and punishments to deter this theft. These laws include both smaller and larger forms of larceny. Knowing the difference between both types of larceny can influence the expectations and plans of anyone charged with these crimes.

Petit Larceny

Petit larceny under California Penal Code 484a involves the theft of someone’s property or money in small amounts. In most cases, the petty theft amount according to Penal Code 484a is $400 to $1,000. This form of larceny can range from the theft of a few dollars to taking a considerable amount of property. Valuation of a property to determine the petty theft amount often depends on the type of property stolen and the testimony of the property’s owner. Common types of petty theft include taking minerals off of private land or petty theft by false pretense. One of the less frequent types of petty theft is library theft of books and video/audio materials.

Larceny is different from other crimes related to petty theft or petty theft by false pretense in that it does not involve breaking a lock or taking an item by force. There is no weapon involved in the vast majority of larceny cases. Therefore, petty theft charges in California are often much less severe than robbery or burglary charges. While even minor robbery can lead to a stiff prison sentence, petit larceny can sometimes result simply in fines or community service for first-time offenders. A large number of petit larceny cases are settled every year by individuals agreeing to pay restitution or promise to stay out of trouble for a significant period of time.

What is Grand Larceny?

Grand larceny as sanctioned by California Penal Code 488 is a more serious charge than petit larceny or petty theft. The question of what is grand larceny felony is revolved around amounts. According to California Penal Code 488, this crime involves the unlawful taking of personal property at a grand larceny amount over $400 to $1,000. More severe forms of larceny charges also involve a lack of force in the same way as petit larceny does.

But this crime is still serious and carries the potential of significant prison time for the unlawful taking of personal property. Grand larceny felony charges are less open to plea deals and first-time offender protections than petit larceny charges. Significant acts of grand larceny in the state of California can lead to years in prison for those convicted. Individuals can be convicted of grand larceny felony mainly through testimony and evidence of where the illicit property was at any given time.

What to do after being charged?

Anyone who is charged with either petit or grand larceny felony needs to secure release from jail time for petit larceny as soon as possible. Individuals will often be arrested and sent to a local jail for processing. They will soon appear before a judge and have to post bail. Individuals should either post bail themselves or enlist the help of a bail bondsman. Then, they should get out of jail and contact an attorney to help them build their case.

Both forms of larceny are charges with holes that an experienced attorney can poke through. Prosecutors have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an individual stole a certain amount of property for a specific motive. They have to believe the testimony of the alleged victim and any accountants or finance professionals completely. Individuals also have to receive due process and have all evidence traced carefully. Attorneys frequently highlight misplaced evidence that could have easily been subject to tampering. The loss of only one piece of evidence to a successful chain of custody motion can mean the collapse of a larceny case.


Any individual who is charged with either petit or grand larceny should take the charges seriously. A grand larceny amount of even $1,000 can lead to prison. Even the most minor petit larceny charge can cause problems for an individual if they are convicted. That individual might face fines, jail time for petit larceny, or community service. They may be unable to work a wide variety of jobs where individuals have to be trusted with money. These charges demand that an individual hire an attorney, get out of pretrial custody, and put forth the best defense possible to reduce their chances of conviction.
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