How to Fight a Petty Theft Charge

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You are innocent until proven guilty, no matter what evidence a prosecutor has against you in a petty theft charge. Facing the charge of willfully stealing property valued below a certain amount, you'll need to establish in court a reasonable doubt of your guilt.

Remain courteous throughout the fight against your petty theft charge. You can cooperate with law enforcement personnel without violating your Miranda rights. Do not resist arrest. Get the names of all police officers involved, particularly if you believe your rights were violated during your arrest.

Hire a qualified and experienced attorney to represent you in court. Representing yourself is not recommended when you are facing criminal charges.

Read More: Petty Theft Laws in California

Ask your lawyer about the various defense strategies available in your case. These will differ considerably from case to case and may be contingent upon extraneous factors such as prior arrests or convictions.

Show up on time for all court proceedings. It will help your fight against the charges if you put in some effort to maintain a respectable appearance and attitude toward the court. Do not be disrespectful to court officials.

Focus on establishing reasonable doubt that you intended to commit petty theft. Proving intent is the burden of the prosecution and is required in most jurisdictions in order to get a conviction.

Know that your right to appeal a conviction is protected if you have reasonable grounds to suggest a miscarriage of justice occurred at some point during your criminal trial.

Remember that you are entitled to a speedy and fair trial under national law. Discrimination in any way represents a violation of your civil liberties. Learn more about your rights at the American Civil Liberties Union (see Resources below).


  • A petty theft conviction can pose problems for securing employment and the acquisition of certain professional licenses. Having a conviction on your criminal record can also compromise your ability to travel internationally.
  • Know that petty theft charges are more difficult to fight if you have prior theft or larceny arrests or convictions on your criminal record. Chronic and repeat offenders are also subject to stricter penalties.


  • All persons charged with criminal offenses have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. You are under no obligation to speak to police before or after you are charged.