Theft is generally considered the unlawful taking of the property of another. Theft cases can be difficult for prosecutors to prove when all they have is circumstantial evidence. Neighbors and roommates often accuse others of unlawfully taking something that was merely misplaced or lost. In misdemeanor crimes, defendants may be eligible for a civil compromise or for their case to be dismissed if the alleged victim agrees.

A theft conviction can make obtaining employment extremely difficult. Many employers now require background checks before a person is hired. Theft is also considered a crime of moral turpitude and can result in denial of professional licenses, such as those for a doctors, lawyers, accountants, nurses, or contractors. If you have a professional license, you will need the best available lawyer to try to avoid conviction so as not to lose your livelihood. If you are not a United States Citizen, a theft conviction may also make you ineligible for citizenship and can result in your deportation. San Mateo criminal defense attorney Thomas Greenberg handles the following types of theft cases:

  • Penal Code 484 – Petty Theft – Generally, where the money, labor, or real or personal property taken is of a value less than nine hundred fifty dollars ($950). Shoplifting items less than $400 value can only be charged as petty theft. This offense is a misdemeanor, although a fourth offense can be charged as a felony under Penal Code 666 (Petty Theft with a Prior—see below).
  • Penal Code 487 – Grand Theft – Generally, where the money, labor, or real or personal property taken is of a value exceeding nine hundred fifty dollars ($950), but occasionally for property valued as low as $400.  Grand theft may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.
  • Penal Code 666 – Petty Theft with a Prior – An offense of petty theft where the defendant has a prior conviction of petty or grand theft, robbery, carjacking, burglary, or felony violation of Penal Code 496 is punishable by imprisonment of up to one year in the county jail, or in state prison
  • Penal Code 487(d)(2) PC Grand Theft Firearm – Theft of a firearm counts as “grand theft,” regardless of the value of the gun.  Grand Theft Firearm is always a felony.
  • Penal Code 487(d)(1) Grand Theft Auto – Theft of an automobile is “grand theft,” regardless of the value of the vehicle.
  • Penal Code 211 – Robbery – The taking of personal property in the possession of another, from his person or immediate presence, and against his will, accomplished by means of force or fear.  What distinguishes robbery from other forms of theft is the use of force or fear (threat of force is considered fear).  Robbery counts as a strike under California’s Three Strikes Law.
  • Penal Code 459 – Burglary – Entering a structure (occupied or not) with intent to commit grand or petit theft or any felony is guilty of burglary.  If the structure is a home or “inhabited dwelling” (occupied or not), residential burglary may be charged.  Residential burglary is punished more severely than commercial burglary, and residential burglary counts as a strike pursuant to California’s Three Strikes Law.
  • Penal Code 459 – Auto Burglary – Breaking into an automobile for the purposes of stealing it.
  • Penal Code 215 – Carjacking – Robbery of a vehicle (the use of force or fear to take a vehicle from someone’s immediate possession).  Carjacking is punishable by up to 9 years in state prison, plus additional time if a weapon is used.
  • Penal Code 503 – Embezzlement – Misappropriation of money or property entrusted to a person by the rightful owner.
  • Penal Code 518 – Extortion – Using force or fear to compel another person to surrender money or property.  The difference between extortion and robbery is that in extortion the alleged victim consents to the taking.  Also, robbery involves a threat of immediate harm whereas extortion may involve the use of immediate or future harm.
  • Penal Code 496 – Receipt of Stolen Property – Purchasing or receiving property that a person knows or reasonably should know was stolen.

Theft crimes are often priorable. This means that if you have been previously convicted of a theft crime, the prior crime may be used to enhance the penalties for any future theft crime.


Shoplifting can be charged as petty or grand theft, depending on the value of the merchandise.  Merchandise valued less than $400 can only be charged as petty theft; merchandise valued more than $400 can be charged as grand theft. Sometimes a person charged with shoplifting will also be charged with burglary (see below).

In petty or grand theft, the critical element that the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt is that you had the intent to steal.  A criminal defense attorney will focus on your intent and may be able to get the charge against you reduced or dismissed either on the merits of your case or through other means such as civil compromise, community service or enrollment in a diversion program.



While the defining characteristic of robbery is the use of force or fear (such as the threat of violence) to coerce a person to turn over property, the prosecution must prove other elements as well, such as the fact that you took the property from a person’s immediate presence, intended to keep the property, and that you did not have the alleged victim’s consent.  There are a variety of legal defenses that may be available to you, depending on the circumstances of your case.  Some of the most common defenses to robbery are:

  • you did not intend to take or keep the property but only decided to after using force or fear for another purpose,
  • you accidentally took the property and later decided to keep it,
  • you honestly believed the property was rightfully yours,
  • a witness mistakenly identified you, and
  • the accusation is false.

Robbery is always a felony, but the length of sentence depends on whether you are convicted of first or second degree robbery.  First degree robbery is reserved for robberies of drivers or passengers of commercial vehicles, inhabited dwellings (homes or residences), and robberies of people who are using or have just finished using an ATM.  A conviction for first degree robbery exposes the defendant to a three, four, or six-year prison sentence.  If the robbery was committed with at least two other people, the sentence is can be up to nine years in prison.  Second degree robbery is punishable by two, three, or five years in prison.  The sentence for first or second degree robbery may be enhanced if a victim suffered great bodily injury, if a gun was used, or if the prosecutor proves the robbery was convicted for the benefit or, at the direction of, or in association with gang activity.  Robbery of more than one person can result in multiple charges of robbery—even if only one item was taken.

Robbery counts as a strike under California’s Three Strikes Law.  Not only can robbery count as a strike that ultimately results in a three strike prison sentence of twenty-five years to life, but the second strike on your record will result in a prison sentence twice the term otherwise required by law.

California’s Felony Murder Rule automatically applies if a person is accidentally or unintentionally killed by any accomplice during the course of a robbery.



Burglary is the act of entering a structure (occupied or not) with intent to commit petty theft or any felony.  There is no “breaking and entering” requirement—the door need not have been locked or even closed, you might have even been invited in.  On the other hand, you need not have entered your whole body into the structure—merely reaching through an open window to take something constitutes burglary.

Intent is a critical element of burglary.  The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that at the point in time when you entered the structure—not later—you had the intent to commit a theft or any felony.  The prosecution might point to clothes you were wearing or tools you were carrying.  Absent incriminating evidence, it may be hard for the prosecution to prove your intent was formed before you entered the structure.  But the prosecution may be able to show that your intent developed once you were within a building but before you entered a room, such as that you entered a home with innocent intent but then formed the intent to rape and entered a bedroom with the intent to rape the person in the bedroom.

First degree burglary—commonly referred to as residential burglary—is always a felony.  Second degree burglary—commonly referred to as commercial burglary, and encompassing everything other than residential burglary—is a “wobbler,” which means that it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the case and the defendant’s criminal background.  A felony conviction for first degree (residential) burglary can result in up to six years in prison and a $1,000 fine.  A felony conviction for second degree burglary results in a conviction of sixteen months or two or three years in state prison and a maximum fine of $1,000.  A conviction for misdemeanor burglary can result in up to a year in county jail and a maximum fine of $1,000.

If during the burglary, great bodily injury resulted to someone, or someone was in the residence while it was burglarized, or if explosives were used to enter the building, the sentence would be greatly enhanced.  A sentence for burglary would be enhanced if you had prior felony convictions.  Furthermore, burglary charges are often accompanied by other charges, such as theft, robbery, forgery, or trespass.  Because of the complexity of charges of burglary, it is in your interest to get the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

If you have been accused or charged with a theft case in San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda, or San Francisco counties, you will need the help of an experienced theft attorney who is familiar with these types of cases. San Mateo criminal defense attorney Thomas Greenberg can preserve your freedom and protect your rights if you have been accused of a theft crime.


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