California Penal Code Section 459.5 describes the crime of shoplifting. The statute states that shoplifting is entering an open commercial building to steal items or merchandise worth $950 or less during working hours. Shoplifting could also be considered petty theft. Unlike shoplifting, you commit burglary when you enter the same commercial building to steal property valued above $950 under California PC 459.
Before the passing of Proposition 47 in 2014, defendants used to face burglary charges, but currently, they face misdemeanor shoplifting ones. In California, the prosecution must prove intent as an element of the offense. However, you are charged with petty theft, not shoplifting, if you entered the building without intent but decided to steal merchandise once inside.
Since the consequences of being found guilty of shoplifting are severe, you need a lawyer’s help. Fighting the charges and navigating the California justice system alone could have a toll on your job and savings. At the Pasadena Criminal Attorney, we could help build strong defenses and fight the prosecution’s evidence. We have the skills and connections requisite to have your charges dismissed or even lowered.
Definition of Shoplifting Under California Law
As mentioned above, California PC 459.5 punishes shoplifting crime. The law considers shoplifting as a misdemeanor offense. You commit the offense when you enter an open business intending to commit theft. The merchandise you steal should be valued at $950 or less. The commercial establishment must be open during working hours. The statute states that any other entry intending to commit larceny is considered burglary.
Examples of PC 459.9 commission include:
- Entering a convenience store intending to steal bottles of mineral water.
- Walking into a bookshop with the idea of buying an eraser and sneaking pencils in your backpack.
- Going into a jewelry shop with a plan to steal a $500 wedding ring.
Element of Shoplifting Offense
Before the judge could convict you, the prosecuting agency must prove beyond a reasonable doubt certain elements of crime, including:
- You entered an open commercial premise.
- You entered the open premises during normal working hours.
- You entered the said establishment with an intent to steal goods worth $950 or less.
Note that a commercial building/ establishment is a business premise where people exchange goods and services. The law does not require the prosecution to prove that you left the establishment with the merchandise. You could be guilty if a worker catches you red-handed inside the establishment.
For example, you enter an electronics shop intending to steal a laptop worth $700. Upon entering the store, you nervously find a laptop on display. One employee observes you and notices your suspicious conduct. They follow you and catch you slipping a PC into your backpack.
If arrested, the prosecution could charge you with shoplifting. In the example, you did not walk out of the store with the laptop before one worker confronted you. The judge could find you guilty even without stepping out of the shop with the stolen property.
Possible Penalties for California Shoplifting Crime
In California, PC 459.5 violations are charged as misdemeanor crimes. If found guilty, possible penalties are:
- Serving time in jail for six months.
- Paying a $1,000 fine or less.
Some circumstances could have you face felony charges if charged with shoplifting. If found guilty, you could serve time in prison for not more than three years or pay a fine of up to $10,000. Note that felony punishment only applies if you have a criminal record entails the following offenses:
- A Violent felony that is punishable by death or life imprisonment under California law
- Attempted murder, murder, or solicitation to commit murder.
- Gross vehicular manslaughter.
- Sex offense on a minor who is below 14 years.
- A sex offense that requires you to register as a sex offender.
- Any other sexually violent crime.
Civil Demand Letters in Shoplifting Cases
Business owners and merchants alike could make civil demands under California PC 490.5. The statute allows businesses or law firms to send civil demand letters to defendants facing shoplifting allegations. Normally, the letter demands payment for losses the shoplifting victim incurred owing to the offense. A demand letter could order the payment of a maximum of $500 for the value of merchandise the suspect stole, damaged, and guards or employees who handled the shoplifting case.
What A Civil Demand Letter Involves
In shoplifting cases, business owners send civil demand letters to defendants facing allegations to demand restitution for losses the merchant incurred owing to the shoplifting incident. Stores send these letters when they recover undamaged merchandise.
A civil demand involves a civil action, and repayment the business receives is a form of civil recovery. Under shoplifting laws, a business owner could ask for particular things in a civil demand letter, including:
- The cost of items the defendant stole or attempted to steal, and the business couldn't recover the stolen merchandise.
- Damaged merchandise cost.
- The expense of a loss prevention officer or worker who handled the shoplifting case
In California, store owners can only demand up to $500 in losses from shoplifting suspects. The demand does not have to consider the stolen item cost. If the accused is a minor, their legal guardian or parent is jointly responsible to the retailer together with the minor. If you ignore a demand letter, California PC 490.5 allows the business owner to file charges in small claims court against you.
What To Do After Receiving The Letter
The moment you receive a letter, you want to contact your defense attorney for legal counsel. Proceeding to handle the case singlehandedly might not go as expected. Your defense lawyer will probably advise you not to rush issuing a response or paying the store owner. The notion behind making a quick payment is you admit that you are guilty of shoplifting.
Also, even though you pay the store after receiving the demand letter, that does not imply that the case is settled. The owner could still file a civil lawsuit or criminal charges. In addition, your defense lawyer could engage the business to negotiate a lesser payment and prevent the store from initiating a civil claim or criminal case.
What Shopkeeper’s Privilege Means
In California, the shopkeeper’s privilege law suggests that business establishments can detain someone if they reasonably believe that the shopper is a shoplifting suspect. However, this detention should only be for a reasonable period and a shoplifting investigation.
Whether or not a suspect’s detainment is for a reasonable time or reasonable, the court determines this based on circumstances surrounding the case. Under California shoplifting laws, a merchant or store owner is an operator or owner of a store used for goods sale or personal property sale. The merchandise must be portable; hence, capable of manual delivery.
Retailers Using Force To Detain Shoplifters
The law allows shop owners to apply force when detaining you for shoplifting. The shopkeeper’s privilege allows the merchant to use a reasonable amount of force on you that is necessary to:
- Protect themselves.
- Prevent you from escaping from the establishment.
Note that the law prohibits the use of deadly force on shoplifting suspects.
Immigration Consequences for Violating PC 459.5
Generally, facing conviction for shoplifting does not affect your immigration status. According to the law, some criminal convictions could lead to deportation. For instance, convictions for offenses that involve moral turpitude could result in deportation. However, a shoplifting conviction cannot render you deportable.
Having Your Conviction Expunged
Upon a shoplifting conviction, you could have an expungement. A primary benefit of expungement is erasing several conviction hardships. The court could expunge your conviction if you complete your jail term or probation.
Roles Of Prevention Officers Allowed Under California Law
Primarily, loss prevention officers are considered private security guards. Many businesses and stores hire the services of these officers to curtail shoplifting incidences. Guards prevent incidents through shopper monitoring. However, prevention officers are not law enforcement officers. Therefore, the officers cannot arrest shoplifting suspects.
California law allows prevention officers to perform certain actions if they suspect you of shoplifting, including:
- Request to search your bag. But you could refuse.
- Apply reasonable force when detaining you.
- Detain you for a reasonable period.
- Require that you remain on the premises until law enforcers arrive.
Upon detainment, it is recommended that you don't speak to the loss prevention officer. If you face a shoplifting accusation, you shouldn’t speak until you talk to your attorney.
How Proposition 47 Affects The Crime Of Shoplifting
In 2014, California passed Proposition 47. Also referred to as the Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative, Proposition 47 added shoplifting, section 459.5 to the California Penal Code. Before the initiative, the law considered PC 459.5 violation as burglary. If arrested, you could face felony charges.
The initiative has a provision applicable if you have previously faced a burglary conviction before the new law but had engaged in a shoplifting crime. Prop 47 allows you to petition for resentencing. If the court approves your application, your penalty could be reduced from felony burglary to misdemeanor shoplifting.
Legal Defense Strategies to Shoplifting
Criminal defense attorneys use many legal strategies when defending and fighting shoplifting allegations. Your lawyer could attack the charges by showing that:
- You restituted the store owner through a civil compromise.
- You did particular acts under an informal diversion program.
- You are innocent because your was a case of mistake of fact.
- You developed the intention to steal after entering the establishment.
- You did not intend to commit shoplifting.
- You faced a false accusation.
- You are a victim of police misconduct.
Lack of Intent
As mentioned above, the intent is a shoplifting crime element that the prosecution must prove before the court can convict you. If you had no intention to steal merchandise before entering a commercial building, the court could not convict you for shoplifting. Therefore, you do not face shoplifting charges if you decide to steal items after entering a store. However, the prosecution could establish intent according to your statements after you face arrest.
A civil compromise is when you agree to compensate the business owner for losses incurred in a shoplifting case. Then, the business owner does not press charges against you. Examples of losses are:
- The cost of loss prevention.
- Damaged or lost merchandise.
In some circumstances, you could face false accusations based on mistaken identification. For example, you walk in a clothing shop where you find many shoppers wearing clothes similar to yours. If one steals an item, the loss prevention officer could make a mistake and accuse you falsely. Other false accusation incidents happen from people acting on revenge and anger.
Informal diversion program
Informal diversion is when you plead guilty and agree to do particular tasks to evade a conviction if guilty. When you enter this agreement, the guilty plea is stayed until you complete particular acts.
For example, you face shoplifting charges. You are prosecuted, and the court offers you entry into an informal diversion program. The court posts you to 25-hour community service and restitutes the victim for the merchandise you stole. You agree and enter a guilty plea. The judge gives you eight months to finish your community service hours and repay the victim.
You complete the orders before the stipulated deadline. You return to court, and the juror ascertains that you completed the order well. Your judgment of not guilty is not entered, and face no charges on your record.
After-entry intent explains the circumstance where you do not intend to steal property when you initially enter a commercial establishment. Instead, you plan to steal merchandise when already inside the store. Your lawyer could use this as a legal defense as shoplifting requires you to have the intention to steal before entering the business. Even if the court doesn’t convict you of shoplifting, you could face punishment for petty theft.
Misconduct by Police
When you hire a competent lawyer, they could show that the law enforcers violated your Fourth Amendment. In the Us, the constitution prohibits the police from performing unlawful searches or forcing you to confess. If your defense attorney believes there was misconduct by police, they could file a Pitchess motion to investigate the police’s history of similar conduct.
Mistake of Fact
A mistake of fact happens when one misunderstands particular facts that negate a crime element. Often than not, a mistake of fact is used as a legal defense in shoplifting cases to prove that you did not intend to steal the merchandise.
For example, Mary walks into a fashion store. She spots a scarf on the floor that looks exactly like hers. She picks the scarf, thinking it fell off her purse, and then places it in her bag. The scarf is on sale. The manager witnesses Mary and confronts her.
In the example above, Mary cannot be convicted of shoplifting. She was mistaken that the scarf belonged to her. The mistake means she had no intentions to steal. Mary is not guilty since the intent is among the elements the prosecution must prove when filing shoplifting charges.
Related Offenses to PC 459.5
In California, there are three offenses the prosecution could charge you together with or in the place of shoplifting. These include:
Burglary – PC 459
California PC 459 is the statute that defines burglary offense. You are said to commit burglary when:
- You enter any room, structure, or locked car.
- You enter the locked vehicle, room, or structure to commit theft or a felony offense when inside.
Note that shoplifting is a subset of PC 459, where you walk into an open business intending to commit petty theft or steal merchandise worth $950 or less. Also, shoplifting only applies to petty theft. California punishes petty theft as a misdemeanor. Then again, burglary could be charged if you have the intention to commit a felony.
Possible punishment for a PC 459 violation depends on whether you faced a first-degree or second-degree burglary. In California, also known as residential burgling, first-degree burglary is charged as a felony. Upon conviction, possible penalties are:
- Formal/ Felony probation.
- Serving two years, four years, or six years in prison.
- Paying a fine that doesn’t exceed $10,000.
Additionally, burglary is a strike crime under the California three strikes law.
Second-degree burglary punishment is usually lighter than the first-degree one. Also known as commercial burgling, second-degree burglary is a wobbler. The prosecution could charge you with a misdemeanor or felony. Upon a felony conviction, possible punishment includes:
- Felony probation.
- Serving time in jail for sixteen months, two years, or three years in jail.
- Paying no more than $10,000 in fines.
A misdemeanor second-degree conviction could attract penalties like:
- summary/ misdemeanor probation.
- Serving not more than one year in jail.
- Paying a fine not exceeding $1,000.
Petty Theft, California PC 484
California PC 484 is the statute that punishes petty theft. You commit this crime when:
- You steal another person’s service or goods.
- The services or goods you steal are valued at $950 or below.
The major disparity between shoplifting and petty theft includes:
- California PC 459.5 happens when you steal merchandise from an open establishment.
- California PC 484 happens when you steal merchandise under all other environments or situations.
For example, you could face petty theft charges if you take a neighbor’s hammer. However, the prosecution cannot charge you with shoplifting in this case. You did not face charge because you did not walk and stole from an open commercial premise.
Petty theft is a misdemeanor under California law. If found guilty, possible punishment is serving in jail for not more than six months or pay a fine not exceeding $1000. The judge has the discretion to post you to summary probation in the place of jail time.
Grand Theft, California PC 487
California PC 487 is the law that prohibits grand theft crime. You are charged with grand theft if you steal another person’s property worth over $950. Two major differences between grand theft and shoplifting include:
- Grand theft happens when you steal property worth over $950.
- Shoplifting happens when you steal goods from an open store.
Grand theft is a wobbler crime under California law. The prosecution has the jurisdiction to charge you with either a felony or misdemeanor offense. The prosecutor’s decision to charge you with a felony grand theft or misdemeanor grand theft is based on:
- Circumstances surrounding your case.
- Your criminal record.
Upon a misdemeanor grand theft conviction, you could serve one year in prison. However, if you are convicted of a felony grand theft, you could serve felony probation coupled with a one-year or less jail sentence. You could also serve sixteen months, two years, or three years in jail if you did not use a gun.
Note that California charges a grand theft firearm as a felony. Upon conviction, possible sentencing could be serving time in jail for sixteen months, two years, or three years in prison. Additionally, California law considers grand theft a serious felony, and California PC 1192.7(C) punishes it. The offense is a strike under the three-strikes law in California.
Adding to the penalties explained above, if you are charged with a felony, the court could enhance your penalties if the value of the goods you stole was high. The sentence enhancements include:
- Additional one year if the property you stole was over &65,000.
- Additional two years if the property you stole was worth over $200,000.
- Additional three years if the property you stole was worth over $1,300,000.
- Additional four years in the property you stole was worth more than $3,200,000.
When determining the value of the property you stole, the judge adds every property you stole under one plan or scheme. Also, if you commit multiple grand theft offenses against the same plaintiff, you could face more than one grand theft charge.
Find a Pasadena Criminal Lawyer Near Me
If you or a loved one is facing shoplifting charges under California penal code 45905, you want to contact a competent criminal attorney. Your defense lawyer should review the case details and applicable defense options. Upon conviction, you could face serious life-changing repercussions.
At Pasadena Criminal Attorney, we understand that time is of the essence when handling criminal charges. Our experienced attorneys will swing into action the instance you seek legal help. Contact us at 626-689-2277.