April 11, 2010 By Wallin & Klarich

Under California law, petty theft is described as the taking of property of another valued at $400 or less. A first offense can be charged as a misdemeanor and carries a maximum sentence of six months in county jail.

Commercial burglary under California law is described as entering any structure other than a residence with the intent to commit grand or petty theft or any felony therein. Commercial burglary is a “wobbler” under California law, which means that the offense can be charged as a misdemeanor OR a felony, depending on the circumstances of each case. A commercial burglary conviction can carry a maximum sentence of three years in state prison.

Many people are surprised when they are arrested for what they believe to be the relatively minor crime of petty theft but are actually arrested for and charged with commercial burglary in California. So what is the difference between these two crimes? The answer is simple: intent. That is, what did the person intend to do when he or she entered a store or business? Did they intend to steal before they entered the store? If so, that fits the description of commercial burglary. However, if they entered the store with no intent to commit a crime but, while inside decided to steal, then that fits the description of petty theft, provided the value of the property stolen was $400 or less.

So how do the police prove what somebody was thinking when they walked into a store? Police are trained to ask questions to determine whether the person accused of these types of crimes had planned to steal before they entered the store. Other facts such as whether the alleged thief had money in their possession can also play a role in how the prosecutor decides to charge the case.

The best advice for somebody caught shoplifting is to invoke their Miranda rights, make no statements, and contact the competent attorneys at Wallin & Klarich immediately. Wallin & Klarich has over 30 years of experience successfully defending clients accused of all crimes. Call 1-888-280-6839 to speak to one of Wallin & Klarich’s aggressive and experienced criminal defense attorneys in California today. Please visit us at www.wklaw.com. We will be there when you call.

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