After the passage of Prop 47 in 2014 that reduced the penalties for various crimes, including shoplifting, it has become more tempting for individuals to enter an open business with the intent to steal property worth less than $950. The high-end shopping districts in the state have made these stores a target for shoplifters.
California classifies theft as a moral turpitude crime, meaning a conviction for the offense will make you viewed as a cunning person, negatively affecting your life. You will have problems obtaining a professional license and employment.
If you have been involved in shoplifting, you should contact the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm to help prevent your life from nose-diving. With the help of our experienced criminal attorneys, we will mount a solid defense strategy that will see the charges reduced or thrown out.
Legal Definition of Shoplifting
Under California PC 459.5, a shoplifting offense is any form of theft where an individual feloniously takes, steals, or drives away with another person’s property. Therefore, if today your conduct demonstrates that you have intentions to steal items from a store, this is defined as theft by shoplifting.
The offense is deemed petty theft because the property in question is often valued at $950 or less. However, sometimes the property in question might be at least $950, making the offense grand theft. The property’s value is usually determined by its prevailing market rates, and often there is a price tag on the item indicating its value.
The offense of shoplifting never existed before 2014 after the passage of Prop 47 because the crime was often covered under general theft offenses and usually charged as petty or grand theft based on the property’s value. Shoplifting is considered a subcategory of petty theft today. The reason being it involves entering an open business or store with the intent to take merchandise without payment.
For the offense of shoplifting to happen, you must deliberately conceal items meant for sale and with plans to permanently deny the rightful owner, either a store or commercial establishment, the merchandise’s value by possession and ownership without paying.
Under PC 459.5(a), shoplifting is defined in several terms:
- Shoplifting happens when you gain access into a business or store during operating hours with the plans to take merchandise that isn’t rightfully yours.
- It is also known as larceny, which involves obtaining someone else’s property without their consent, with the intent to cause permanent loss.
- All shoplifting cases must involve merchandise valued at no more than $950
- What is essential in these cases is having the intent or purpose of taking merchandise without paying, and it doesn’t matter whether you were successful in taking the inventory or not.
Misdemeanor Vs. Felony Shoplifting
Misdemeanors are deemed as less severe crimes, while felonies are considered serious offenses. These classifications carry different levels of punishment because a misdemeanor carries fewer penalties while felonies carry multiple and harsh consequences.
Felony crimes usually attract over one year in jail and no more than $10,000 court fines. On the other end, a misdemeanor carries no more than 12 months in prison and as much as $1,000 court fines.
Therefore, what differentiates a felony from a misdemeanor in shoplifting is the merchandise’s value. Besides, the merchandise’s value is what differentiates between petty and grand theft. For a theft whose amount is less than $950, the offense is classified as petty theft and is often prosecuted as a misdemeanor. When you steal property worth more than $950, the offense becomes grand theft, usually filed as a felony.
However, there are exceptions to this rule of property value when you steal particular merchandise like a gun; even when its value is at $950 or less, you will still be subject to a grand theft charge which is a felony.
Elements of Shoplifting
The shoplifting offense is a subset of theft crimes, and it would make more sense to understand the actions that could result in charges or even conviction for this offense.
The definition of shoplifting took a significant shift after the adoption of Prop 47 because these crimes are classified as misdemeanors. Doing so prevents subjecting people with no criminal record to the same jail terms and hefty court fines. It reduces the possibility of a defendant being tried and sentenced for the same offense severally.
The key elements the prosecutor must prove under the newest version to convict you of shoplifting are:
- You entered a commercial building that runs for profits and to participate in sales.
- Intending to engage in stealing, regardless of whether or not the plans were successful
- While the store is operating during business hours
What the new law does is that it reduces shoplifting incidents, although you could still face felony charges if the item’s value taken without paying is $950 or higher.
When proving these elements, the prosecuting team often relies on the following evidence:
- The storekeeper, eyewitnesses, or security officer’s testimony
- Video evidence from security cameras showing that you took merchandise from the business establishment, changed or switched price tags, and left or tried leaving without paying.
Note that you don’t need to succeed in taking the items of the business. You can still face shoplifting charges even when the goods are still within the establishment if concealed within your immediate person. However, if the intent to steal comes when you are already in the store, you will face petty theft instead of shoplifting charges.
Possible Penalties of Shoplifting
A violation of PC 459.5 is often a misdemeanor. However, the offense attracts different charges and consequences based on prior convictions. The standard penalties include:
1. Infraction Charges
If you are apprehended for shoplifting a property whose value is at most $50, and you haven’t been previously convicted of a crime, your crime is an infraction that has a fair punishment, and a conviction is not entered in your criminal record. The court requires you to pay a fine of $250 but no serving time in jail if you end up guilty.
2. Misdemeanor Charge
Remember, with the adoption of new legislation, shoplifting is filed as a misdemeanor when the shoplifted merchandise’s value is no more than $950, but not less than $50. When found guilty, you will face jail custody of at most six months and no more than $1000 in court fines.
3. Merchandise Worth $950 or More
Where shoplifting involves property worth $950 or greater, you will face misdemeanor or felony petty theft charges based on your criminal record. The previous offenses that can result in more severe shoplifting penalties include:
- Any previous sex offense that requires you to enter the register of sex offenders
- Any sex offense against a child 14 years or younger
- Being in possession of a weapon of mass destruction
- Assaulting a peace officer or firefighter utilizing machine guns
- If you commit homicide or attempted homicide
- If you have engaged in the commission of a sex crime using violence, force, or issuing threats
The Duties of Loss Prevention Officers
Many stores or businesses employ private security guards to prevent shoplifting. These individuals are not the same as law enforcers, meaning they cannot make arrests when they find you shoplifting. However, they can still take the following actions if they believe you intend to take merchandise from the business establishment without paying:
- Request to check your bag if they believe you are concealing some items, although you have a right to refuse the search.
- Make use of reasonable force to put you in detention
- Hold or detain you for an appropriate duration
- Require you to remain in detention until law enforcement officers arrive at the scene
It’s worth noting that even if a loss prevention officer finds you shoplifting, don’t try to talk yourself out of the situation until you speak to your defense attorney. The reason being you might make some self-incriminating statements, and these can be used against you in court.
Having Your Burglary Sentence Reduced
As indicated earlier, shoplifting was adopted in the constitution in 2014, after California voters passed Prop 47, and it reduces the punishment for multiple drug and theft offenses. Before the new law, prosecutors used to charge shoplifters with burglary, whose penalties included incarceration for up to six years.
If you were arrested for shoplifting and charged with burglary before 2014, the updated laws allow you to apply for resentencing to a shoplifting charge which is a misdemeanor and carries lesser penalties. Your sentence will be significantly reduced through resentencing, and if you have already served a sentence, the felony conviction will be expunged from your criminal record. The resentencing procedure is not easy, so you will need to work closely with a criminal attorney to guide you through the complex process.
Defending Shoplifting Charges
Many individuals consider shoplifting as a minor offense. Still, when convicted, the record leaves a permanent footprint that will have devastating effects on every aspect of your life, including career-wise and personally.
With the help of the right criminal attorney, you can put up solid defense strategies that will contest the charges and have them thrown out or reduced. Even when your criminal record isn’t clear, you don’t want to allow your life to nosedive by thinking that because you have been charged, you are automatically guilty. A knowledgeable attorney can help you avoid the thirty-six months of jail incarceration and a court fine of ten thousand dollars associated with a conviction. Some of the ways to contest the shoplifting charges include:
You Repaid the Business Through a Civil Compromise
A civil compromise is an instance where you agree to the crime of shoplifting and promise to pay back the business owner for losses and damages stemming from the theft. In exchange, the entity decides not to pursue charges on the same matter. You might be asked to pay for the losses by paying for the products lost in the shoplifting incident and the expenses associated with preventing the same incidents in the future.
If your crime borders a misdemeanor, the court might consider the matter a civil compromise. However, the prosecuting attorney isn’t bound by the agreement between you and the store owner. You can claim that the issue has been resolved privately and no one is seeking prosecution, but the prosecution attorney might still decide to pursue the case or drop it.
The Plan to Steal Developed Once You Entered the Store
As mentioned earlier, the prosecution is required to prove that you had the intent to steal when entering the commercial establishment. It means if you don't have the purpose or plans to steal when gaining entry to the business, you are not guilty of shoplifting. However, because you developed the intent to steal after entry, the court will find you guilty of petty theft.
You Were Mistaken by Particular Facts Crucial to the Case That You Were Guilty
Sometimes, you might misunderstand some facts that disprove critical elements in your case. It might be you have picked a pullover on the floor of a commercial establishment thinking it’s yours later on after an arrest to find out that the sweater belonged to the shop although it looked like yours. In a case like this, most of the facts show that you stole the item and concealed it. However, the truth of the matter is that you lacked the purpose to steal, meaning you are innocent of shoplifting.
Law enforcement officers must conduct investigations as per the rules, but sometimes they take shortcuts, making the evidence gathered inadmissible in court. Sometimes the mistakes made during investigations might be due to inexperience handling shoplifting cases. Other times it might be due to racial discrimination where officers plant evidence to force you into a confession. Police might engage in misconduct even when they conduct a search and seizure without a search warrant.
If any of these law enforcement misconducts happened in your case, your defense attorney could file a Pitchess motion where the court directs an investigation to be carried out on the officer to find out if there are any misconduct claims labeled against them. If the officer has a history of engaging in misconduct, your attorney can argue that you are a victim of the officer’s misconduct just like in the previous cases, thus having the case dismissed.
You Were Trespassing
Trespass is defined under PC 602 as entering somebody else’s property without their consent or the right to do so. On the other hand, Shoplifting involves entering a commercial establishment during business hours when you have the right to do so. However, sometimes the loss prevention officers or owner of a store might want you out of their premises for no reason, resulting in shoplifting charges.
When you are accused of shoplifting with no clear evidence to show that you had plans to steal, a reputable attorney can negotiate to have the charge reduced to trespassing which is filed as a misdemeanor or infraction attracting fewer consequences.
Settling Your Case Before Trial
When you face shoplifting charges, there are multiple ways of resolving the matter without going for a criminal trial, especially for first-time offenders. These ways include:
1. Reducing the Charge to an Infraction
When the merchandise involved in the shoplifting is $50 or less, your attorney can negotiate with the prosecutor, business owner, or judge to have the charge lowered to a lesser offense like an infraction. Compared to a misdemeanor, a violation is less severe because it doesn’t involve jail time. You are only required to pay court fines of at most $250 and a less severe criminal record. Further, the judge doesn’t impose probation after an infraction conviction.
2. Pre-Trial Diversion
An informal diversion program is when you agree to enter a guilty plea to perform particular actions like participating in community labor or attending anti-theft classes. Once you enter the contract, the guilty plea stays until you complete the diversion program.
Not everyone is eligible for the diversion program. You are likely to qualify for the program if you are 24 years or younger, a first-time offender, and the merchandise you are accused of stealing is $300 or less.
3. Plead to a Reduced Charge
In some cases where the prosecutor has weak evidence to demonstrate you engaged in shoplifting, they might offer you a plea deal where you are asked to plead guilty to a less severe crime like trespassing. By doing so, you can avoid conviction for a crime with more stringent penalties and severe repercussions on various aspects of your life.
4. A Civil Compromise
Another final way you can resolve the shoplifting charges without proceeding to trial is through a civil compromise. This is where you admit to shoplifting and promise to pay all the losses incurred in exchange for the store owner not to pursue prosecution. The move is risky because the prosecutor can still proceed with the trial even after paying the amount agreed upon to cover the losses and deter future shoplifting incidents. However, it’s still worth avoiding the costly criminal proceedings and the harsh penalties associated with a conviction.
Action to Take After You Have Been Accused of Shoplifting
The most critical step you can take after an arrest for shoplifting is contacting a criminal defense attorney who understands your rights and California statutes. The attorney will suggest that you don’t talk to the loss prevention security officers, store owners, or police officers until your legal representation is present to protect your rights. Other steps you shouldn’t take after an arrest include:
- Don’t panic, instead keep calm always
- Do not speak to anyone until you consult with your attorney
- Don’t agree to a search because it is considered as admitting guilt
- Do not wait for long before calling an attorney
- Do not assume the crime is a minor offense, even if it’s your first
Offenses Related to Shoplifting
California laws have three offenses related to or charged alongside shoplifting. These include:
Burglary is defined under PC 459 as entering a structure, room, or building with the plans to participate in the commission of a felony or theft offense once inside. A shoplifting offense is a subcategory of burglary. It involves you gaining access to an open commercial establishment to commit petty theft or take merchandise worth no more than $950 without paying.
Keep in mind that shoplifting offenses only apply in petty theft cases where the theft property’s value is no more than $950, and the crime is often a misdemeanor. On the other end, you face burglary charges if you intended to engage in a felony once you gained access to the property.
Petty theft is outlined under PC 484 as taking another individual’s property or services valued at $950 or less without consent. Shoplifting and petty theft are very similar. The only difference is shoplifting entails taking without paying from an open commercial establishment, while petty theft involves theft under other settings other than open store settings.
For instance, if you steal your neighbor’s bicycle parked in the backyard, you will face petty theft charges and not shoplifting because you didn’t take the bike from an open business.
When you take someone’s property worth at least $950 without consent, you will face grand theft charges. The offense is like shoplifting; the only difference is that grand theft involves taking property worth $950 or more. Shoplifting only consists of taking property from a store during operating hours.
Find a Profound Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you face shoplifting charges, the new Prop 47 laws enacted in 2014 will benefit you. However, even though the punishment for the offense has significantly reduced, a conviction for the crime can still have devastating effects on your career and personal life, depending on the theft property’s value. The prosecuting team will prove this element and others during the trial, and this is why you need to have an experienced criminal attorney by your side to contest the facts presented against you.