Retail Shoplifting. Man Stealing Jeans

Shoplifting Charges in California

Brownstein Law Group, P.C. March 24, 2022

Shoplifting can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony in California, depending on the value of the property allegedly stolen. In either case, it is not a conviction you want to have on your record for the rest of your life.

The bar for the prosecution of charges stemming from retail theft is high, and the circumstances of the incident may be less than clear. Working with a criminal defense lawyer like Josh S. Brownstein offers you the best opportunity of mitigating criminal charges or keeping a conviction off of your record altogether.

If you have been accused of or charged with shoplifting in San Rafael, Marin County, San Francisco, Novato, or Petaluma, California, regardless of your guilt or innocence, put Brownstein Law Group, P.C. to work for you.

Shoplifting Charges Under California Law

Shoplifting is defined under California law as entering a commercial enterprise during the hours it is opened for business with the intent to steal property from it, so long as the value of the stolen property is $950 or less. Under any other circumstances, the act is classified as burglary.

A person who enters a department store during its normal hours of operation to steal a pair of $20 earrings commits the crime of shoplifting as soon as they pick them up and conceal them, regardless of whether they make it out of the store without being caught. If the person breaks into the store when it is closed to steal the earrings, or if the person steals a $1,000 designer handbag, they would be charged with burglary.

The $950 threshold is the current law in California, but a bill has been introduced in the California General Assembly that proposes to lower the threshold to $400. The voters of California will need to approve the measure in order for it to become law.

How Are Retail Theft Charges Classified?

Shoplifting of property during regular business hours with a value of $950 or less is petty theft, charged as a misdemeanor offense unless the person charged has certain prior convictions. If so, they may be charged with a felony offense.

A relatively new law makes the theft of $950 or less a felony if the prosecution can prove that the theft was part of an operation to sell stolen property.

The felony charge of grand theft applies if burglary is committed by the intentional larceny of property valued at more than $950 or taken during hours the business was closed, even if the person did not have to break in to commit the theft.

Moreover, a felony grand theft charge applies if an employee steals more than $950 worth of property from their employer in a 12-month time period, if the property is stolen from another’s person, or when the property stolen is an automobile or firearm.

Possible Penalties for a Shoplifting Conviction

A first-time petty theft shoplifting misdemeanor conviction can result in up to six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.

Burglarizing a commercial enterprise is usually charged as a second-degree felony, which can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. The misdemeanor conviction would result in up to one year in jail. The felony conviction could result in a jail sentence of up to three years. Penalties increase based on certain circumstances, including prior convictions.

Potential Legal Defenses

Depending on the circumstances of the incident that led to your arrest, there are some common defenses a criminal defense attorney can raise.

The prosecution must prove that you intended to steal something when you entered the store. If you entered the store without the intent to steal, then stuck an item in your pocket on a whim, you might avoid prosecution and conviction.

You might have possessed the property by accident. For example, you put a handbag on your arm while looking at other handbags and forget it is there. Or you try on a shirt and jacket but forget to take off the shirt when you remove the store’s jacket and put your jacket back on.

If there was a witness to the alleged shoplifting, your attorney may cast doubt on the accuracy of the witness’s account of events or on their identification of you as the perpetrator.

Remember, not leaving the store with the item is not a requirement for a conviction. The theft is committed upon entering the store with the intent to steal and picking up an item to take it.

How a Knowledgeable Attorney Can Help

Your best chance to avoid a felony shoplifting charge or even a misdemeanor charge is to work with an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. A conviction for shoplifting or burglary is a negative stain on your record that can affect your life forever.

Additionally, once you have that first conviction on your record, penalties for subsequent convictions for shoplifting, burglary, or virtually any other crime will be enhanced. Why risk it?

Get Help from Brownstein Law Group, P.C.

Attorney Josh S. Brownstein is a seasoned and tenacious trial attorney who has built a successful record of defending clients in and around San Rafael, California, as well as Marin County, San Francisco, Novato, and Petaluma. He will challenge the prosecution’s assertion of intent and raise every available defense on your behalf.

You should want tough, aggressive legal defense if you have been charged with shoplifting. Call Brownstein Law Group, P.C. now to get started.