What Is Juvenile Petty Theft in California?

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California defines petty theft as the theft of property worth $950 or less, not involving force or the threat of force.

If California has charged your child with petty theft, negative consequences will likely ensue. There is no need to panic, but there is a need to contact a juvenile defense lawyer as soon as possible.

To learn more about juvenile petty crimes in California, please continue below.

Types of Petty Theft in California

California recognizes several types of petty theft, including:

  • Larceny—shoplifting, for example;
  • Theft by false pretenses or “swindling”—an example would be “borrowing” something you do not intend to return; and
  • Embezzlement—i.e., stealing property that someone (like an employer) has entrusted to you. 

Of these three, the majority of juvenile petty theft charges are shoplifting offenses. 

The California Juvenile Justice System

California treats juveniles much differently than it does adults. The main differences are that the juvenile courts are notoriously lenient, and the juvenile is unlikely to have to deal with a permanent criminal record.

There are no jury trials in the juvenile system. If the case goes to trial, it is a “bench” trial that the judge decides (as opposed to a jury). 

If your child is cited for theft, your child must appear in court for their offense. Additionally, the judge will expect at least one parent to appear as well.


Penalties for juvenile offenses are very flexible compared to penalties for adult offenders. A young person might be offered diversion if they are charged with theft.  

Other possible penalties include:

  • Informal probation—this does not typically require a court appearance and could include restitution, education, and community service.
  • Formal probation—this might include restitution, education, community service, mandatory school attendance, a curfew, and counseling.

Incarceration is very unlikely except in the case of repeat offenders or offenders whose crimes rise above the level of petty theft (taking by force or theft of an automobile, for example).

If your child’s penalty does involve incarceration, the venue is very likely to be a juvenile facility.  

Can San Diego County Try a Juvenile as an Adult for Petty Theft?

For an adult offender, petty theft in San Diego and throughout California is normally a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of a fine of $1,000, restitution, one year of probation, and up to six months in jail.

Although California can try a minor under 18 years old as an adult for some crimes, petty theft is not one of them. The juvenile justice system handles all cases of juvenile petty theft. 

Remember that theft and robbery are different offensesーrobbery involves force or the threat of force. If your child repeatedly commits robbery, trial as an adult becomes increasingly likely once they turn 14.

Juvenile Defense Lawyer Kerry L. Armstrong Thoroughly Understands the San Diego Juvenile Justice System

When your child’s future is threatened due to criminal charges, even for a crime as minor as petty theft, you need to act decisively.

You are going to need an experienced juvenile defense attorney to get the best results possible for your child. Fortunately, attorney Kerry L. Armstrong has successfully resolved a multitude of juvenile cases.

He was named “Trial Attorney of the Year” in 2013 by the San Diego Criminal Defense Bar Association and has been included on the California Super Lawyers List for many years.

In fact, major news outlets have covered some of his many successes.

Contact the Law Office of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, by telephone at 619-373-0185 or by filling out our online contact form today. You know you are in good hands with us!

Where to Find Our San Diego, California Office

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Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.

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