Understanding Shoplifting Under California Law

California Penal Code 459.5 defines shoplifting as entering a commercial establishment during regular business hours with the intent to steal merchandise valued at $950 or less. This offense is classified as a misdemeanor, carrying penalties of up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Shoplifting remains a misdemeanor unless the defendant has significant prior convictions, which could affect sentencing.

Shoplifting typically involves taking items from a store without paying for them. Common scenarios include individuals entering retail locations intending to steal goods such as clothing or electronics. The perpetrator’s intent at the time of entry is a critical element in prosecuting shoplifting cases. Additionally, individuals charged with shoplifting often receive a civil demand letter post-arrest, requiring them to pay restitution or face potential legal action.

Distinguishing Shoplifting from Other Theft Offenses

Petty Theft (Penal Code 484 PC): This offense includes stealing property valued at $950 or less, similar to shoplifting. However, petty theft does not need to occur in a commercial establishment or during its operating hours, which differentiates it from shoplifting.

Grand Theft (Penal Code 487 PC): This involves the theft of property exceeding $950. Depending on the details of the case, grand theft may be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony, highlighting its severity compared to shoplifting and petty theft.

If you or a loved one is facing shoplifting charges, contact our office at (310) 448-1529 or fill out our online contact form to discuss your case. Our dedicated attorney at The Law Offices of Arash Hashemi is here to provide the support and legal expertise you need every step of the way.





    Penalties for Shoplifting Under CA Penal Code 459.5

    Misdemeanor Shoplifting

    • Jail Time: Up to six (6) months in county jail.
    • Fine: A fine of up to $1,000 (one-thousand dollars).
    • Combined Penalty: Possible combination of both a fine and jail time.

    Felony Shoplifting (if applicable based on prior convictions)

    • Jail Time: Up to three (3) years in state prison for those with prior specified violent offenses or sex offenses.
    • Fine: A fine of up to $10,000 (ten-thousand dollars).
    • Combined Penalty: Possible combination of both a fine and imprisonment.

    Shoplifting as a Wobbler

    Shoplifting can be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony, making it a “wobbler” offense in California. This flexibility in charges allows the court to consider the defendant’s criminal history when determining the severity of the penalties:

    • Misdemeanor Charges: Typically, individuals with no serious prior offenses will face misdemeanor charges for shoplifting. This involves less severe penalties.
    • Felony Charges: Conversely, individuals who have serious or violent felonies, or certain sex offenses in their criminal history may face felony charges for shoplifting. This designation reflects the increased severity of the penalties due to the defendant’s prior convictions.

    Key Considerations in Shoplifting Cases

    • Elements the Prosecution Must Establish:
      • Entry: Prove that the individual entered a commercial establishment.
      • Intent: Demonstrate that the entry was with the intent to commit theft.
      • Timing: Establish that the incident occurred during regular business hours.
      • Value: Confirm that the value of the items intended to be taken was $950 or less.
    • The Role of Intent and Value of Merchandise in Determining Charges:
      • Intent to Steal: The severity of the charge often relies on proving the suspect’s intent to steal at the time of entry.
      • Merchandise Value: The value of the merchandise plays a crucial role:
        • If $950 or less, the offense qualifies as shoplifting under § 459.5 PC, generally treated as a misdemeanor.
        • If over $950, the act may escalate to grand theft, which can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, affecting potential penalties significantly.

    How to Defend Against Shoplifting Charges in Los Angeles

    Challenging the Evidence of Intent to Steal:

    You didn’t form the intent to steal until after you had entered the establishment. Our attorney can argue that your actions inside were not premeditated with the purpose of committing theft, which is essential to undermine the prosecution’s case that you planned to steal upon entry.

    Disputing the Value of the Allegedly Stolen Merchandise:

    Your defense will question the estimated value of the merchandise claimed by the prosecution. If our lawyer can demonstrate that the items were worth less than $950, this can significantly affect the severity of the charges, aiming to keep them within the misdemeanor category.

    Asserting Lack of Knowledge or Mistaken Identity:

    You may not have been aware that your actions constituted a crime, or perhaps there was confusion regarding permission to take the items. Additionally, if the case against you involves identification by security footage or witnesses, your lawyer will challenge these claims, arguing that you were wrongly identified as the person involved in the shoplifting.

    The Importance of Effective Legal Representation

    When facing shoplifting charges, the quality of your legal representation can greatly influence the outcome of your case. An experienced defense attorney not only understands the law but also knows how to navigate the complexities of the legal system to protect your rights.

    Choosing the right attorney is crucial in shoplifting cases. It’s important to select a lawyer who specializes in theft-related offenses and has a proven track record of handling shoplifting cases. A skilled attorney will evaluate the evidence, identify weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, and develop a strategic defense tailored to your specific situation.

    Selecting the Right Attorney

    An experienced defense attorney, can play a pivotal role in mitigating or even dismissing shoplifting charges. Here’s how an expert can navigate through the legal intricacies:

    1. Evaluating the Evidence: The attorney will thoroughly examine the prosecution’s evidence, including video surveillance and witness testimonies, to challenge the validity and reliability of the information provided.
    2. Negotiating with Prosecutors: Experienced attorneys often have established relationships with prosecutors and can negotiate lesser charges or alternative penalties such as diversion programs, especially beneficial for first-time offenders.
    3. Presenting a Strong Defense: Depending on the circumstances, the defense might include demonstrating a lack of intent, disputing the value of the stolen items to remain within the misdemeanor threshold, or proving mistaken identity.
    4. Handling Trials: If the case goes to trial, a skilled attorney will know how to effectively present your case to the jury, emphasizing factors that might lead to a not guilty verdict.
    5. Post-Trial Advocacy: Even after a trial, an attorney can be essential in handling appeals, expungement of records, or negotiating for reduced sentencing.

    Additional Considerations in Shoplifting Cases

    Long-Term Impacts of a Shoplifting Conviction

    A shoplifting conviction in California can have lasting repercussions beyond immediate penalties. It can adversely affect future employment opportunities as many employers conduct background checks and may hesitate to hire someone with a theft-related conviction. Professional licensing bodies might also view a shoplifting conviction as a mark against the individual’s integrity, potentially leading to denied or revoked licenses. Additionally, some housing applications might be negatively impacted, as landlords may be wary of renting to individuals with criminal records.

    Expungement of Shoplifting Charges

    In California, individuals convicted of shoplifting may have the opportunity to get their conviction expunged from their record, provided they have successfully completed probation, are not currently charged with a criminal offense, nor serving a sentence for a criminal offense, and are not on probation for another offense. The expungement process generally involves filing a petition in court. If granted, the expungement can help lessen the long-term consequences of a conviction, although it does not completely erase the criminal record.

    Role of Surveillance Technology in Prosecutions

    Advancements in surveillance technology have significantly impacted the prosecution of shoplifting cases. High-definition cameras, facial recognition technology, and other sophisticated systems provide clear evidence that can link suspects to specific acts of theft. This technology not only helps in identifying and prosecuting individuals more effectively but also acts as a deterrent to potential offenders aware of the enhanced monitoring capabilities.

    Contact an Experienced Los Angeles Shoplifting Defense Attorney

    Los Angeles defense attorney discussing strategy with client in shoplifting case

    If you’re facing shoplifting charges, The Law Offices of Arash Hashemi are well-prepared to provide expert defense strategies tailored specifically to your case. With extensive experience in criminal defense, Attorney Arash Hashemi and his dedicated team focus on protecting your rights and securing the best possible outcome for you.

    Located at the Westside Towers in Los Angeles, our firm serves clients across Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and Westwood. We understand the unique challenges posed by shoplifting charges, which is why we offer flexible scheduling, including weekend appointments and jail visits, to thoroughly discuss the details of your case.

    For specialized legal assistance with shoplifting charges, do not hesitate to contact our office at (310) 448-1529 or schedule a consultation online.





      11845 W Olympic Blvd #520, Los Angeles, CA 90064

      Monday—Friday 8:30AM–5:00PM

      (310) 448-1529


      Disclaimer: The content provided here is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is not intended to predict outcomes, as individual circumstances vary and laws may change over time. Those seeking legal advice should consult with a qualified attorney to understand how current laws apply to their specific situation. For detailed legal guidance on the topics discussed, please contact our law firm directly.