Going for the old “five finger discount” can cost you up to six months in jail in California.

Entering an open business with the intent to steal less than $950 worth of property is shoplifting under California state law (Penal Code 495.5). Shoplifting is usually treated as a misdemeanor — unless you have some major prior convictions — punishable by a half-year in county jail and fines of up to $1,000.

What is Shoplifting?

california shoplifting laws

In order to convict you of shoplifting, a prosecutor will have to prove that:

  1. You entered an open commercial establishment during normal business hours,
  2. You intended to steal merchandise worth $950 or less.

It’s important to note that it doesn’t matter if you make it out the door with the merchandise. Instead, the prosecutor simply has to prove that you entered the shop with an intent already in place to steal something.

In other words, it is shoplifting if you enter an electronics store with plans to steal a cell phone and are caught in the act. It is not shoplifting if you attempt to steal something “in the moment.” (Depending on the circumstances, the second example would more likely be petty theft).

Penalties for Shoplifting

As we mentioned earlier, shoplifting is usually a misdemeanor with possible penalties of:

  • Misdemeanor probation
  • Up to six months in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to $1,000.

However, if you have a prior conviction that includes:

  1. Anything that requires you to register as a sex offender;
  2. Any felony that is punishable by life in prison on death;
  3. Murder, attempted murder or solicitation of murder;
  4. Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated;
  5. Assault with a machine gun on a peace officer or firefighter; or
  6. Possession of a weapon of mass destruction

You can be charged with felony shoplifting, which is punishable by formal probation, up to three years in county jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

Getting Burglary Sentences Reduced In California

Shoplifting was enshrined into law as a crime in 2014, when California voters passed Proposition 47.

Prop 47 reduces the penalties for a number of drug and theft crimes. Until the passage of Prop 47, prosecutors would usually charge shoplifters under the state’s burglary laws — which carried felony penalties of up to six years in prison.

If you were convicted of felony burglary under shoplifting circumstances, state law allows you to apply for a re-sentencing to a shoplifting misdemeanor.

This can reduce the amount of time left to serve, or if you have already completed your sentence, it can remove the felony from your criminal record. If you think you might be eligible for a re-sentencing under Prop 47, it’s important to talk with a criminal defense attorney who can lead you through the process.

Defenses for Shoplifting Charges

Being accused of shoplifting can be an embarrassing and anxious ordeal. The good news is you have defenses available that can work to get charges reduced or dropped entirely.

Perhaps it was a case of mistaken identity, or the police violated your Fourth Amendment rights while searching you? Or most commonly, you never intended to steal anything when you walked into the shop?

If you or someone you know is facing shoplifting charges, the best thing you can do is talk with a criminal defense attorney to promptly begin building your defense. Call today for your free case evaluation — 800-834-6434.