Petty Theft is generally a misdemeanor and carries up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. Cal. Pen. Code s. 490 .
Petty Theft of something worth $50 or less may be charged as an infraction rather than a misdemeanor, if (and only if) the defendant has no other theft or theft-related convictions. The prosecutor has sole discretion on whether to do so. If the charge is reduced to an infraction, the maximum penalty is a $250 fine. Cal. Pen. Code s. 490.1 .
Additionally, if the defendant has prior theft convictions, he may be facing felony Petty Theft charges under Cal. Pen. Code s. 666 . Cal. Pen. Code s. 666 is often referred to as "Petty Theft with a prior".
Petty Theft with one prior is a wobbler and may be treated as a felony. If the defendant has only one prior, the prison term is 16 months, two years, or 3 years. Cal. Pen. Code s. 666 (b) .
If the defendant has two theft priors, the prison term will be governed by Cal. Pen. Code s. 1170 (h) .