California’s Real Felony Threshold by Year, 1872-2023:

California’s Felony Theft Threshold Is Lower Now than for 80% of California’s History

Real California Felony Threshold by Year, in 2023 Dollars 

California law distinguishes the seriousness of a theft based on the value of the items stolen and currently classifies any theft of more than $950 worth of goods as a felony. Thefts of values below this threshold are classified as misdemeanors. Because inflation changes the real value of currency, California, like all states, has had to periodically update the felony threshold so that it keeps up with inflation.

California’s first penal code, enacted in 1872, established as felonies all thefts valued at more than $50, or $1,270 in today’s dollars.¹ In 1923, the Legislature raised that value to $200, or $3,572 today. Deflation during the Great Depression caused the real threshold to rise, but inflation during and after World War II eventually decreased the value again. The California Legislature raised the felony threshold to $400 in 1982 ($1,261 today), and left it there until 2011, when it raised it to $950 ($1,285). Each time the Legislature has adjusted the felony theft threshold, it has set it within a very narrow range, between $1,261 and $1,285 in today’s dollars. The Legislature has never set a felony threshold value lower than it is today.²

For 80% of California’s history, the felony threshold was higher than it is today once inflation is taken into account.

The felony threshold reached its highest level in 1933 – $4,701 in real 2023 dollars – five times its current value.


¹ See § 836 of the Penal Code of California, Sacramento: H.S. Crocker & Co. 1872, p. 287,

² For a historical overview of the felony theft threshold, see California Senate Committee on Public Safety, AB 2372 Bill Analysis. June 29, 2010,