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Most Petty Thefts No Longer “Wobble”

A petty theft is the stealing of something under $400.  Most shoplifting cases are petty thefts. Consequences for petty theft cases range, but criminal defense lawyers are typically able to get results which include a program and then dismissal or physical labor, community service, fines and probation. Sometimes, however, a petty theft can lead to a stiff state prison sentence. Until recently California allowed a petty theft to be charged as a felony if a person had been convicted of a petty theft at any time in the past and they’d been “booked” or had their mugshot and fingerprints taken at a local police department. Petty theft charges were thus what criminal attorneys call “wobblers”– they could be charged as either a misdemeanor or the more serious felony, at the discretion of either the District Attorney or City Attorney’s Office. Ironically, Chelsea’s Law has just changed this.

Chelsea’s Law, the law that severely increased penalties for sexual offenses against children under the age of 14, had a legislative rider that actually decreased the penalties for petty thefts. Effective September 9, 2010, a petty theft cannot be charged as a felony unless 1) the accused has three or more petty theft priors; 2) the accused is already required to register as a sex offender; or 3) the accused has a strike prior or has been convicted of an offense that falls under California’s Three Strikes regime.

Apparently, the reduction was the result of a legislative compromise designed to prevent prison overcrowding. Chelsea’s Law author, Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, explains: “We want to focus on the worst of the worst and people we’re afraid of, not people we’re mad at. Violent offenders against kids fall into that category, not petty thieves.”

If you or someone you know has been charged with a petty theft, call Orange County criminal lawyer Staycie R. Sena at (949) 477-8088 for a free consultation today.

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