Compared to some of the other crimes we hear about in the news every day, namely sex crimes and violent felonies, shoplifting merchandise from a store, or attempting to do so, may not seem like a very serious criminal offense. However, a defendant convicted of misdemeanor shoplifting in California can still face jail time and significant fines, and this offense can be charged whether or not the theft is successful. This means that if you enter a store planning to steal an item and you are caught trying to put it in your pocket, you could be charged with shoplifting, even though you didn’t leave the store with it. The most effective way to fight shoplifting charges in Los Angeles is to mount an aggressive and immediate defense. In other words, do not wait until formal charges have been filed to hire a criminal defense attorney and begin developing a defense strategy. If you have been accused of or arrested for California shoplifting, contact our legal team at Criminal Defense Attorney Los Angeles immediately for a free consultation. Our experienced defense attorneys will ensure that you understand the charges against you and will defend your rights under California law, from the moment you are arrested to the conclusion of your case.
Affordable Shoplifting Defense Attorney in Los Angeles
All Los Angeles shoplifting offenses come with legal consequences, some more severe than others, and if you are facing shoplifting charges in California, your best chance of avoiding these consequences is securing qualified legal representation. The best shoplifting defense attorneys are resourceful and aggressive, and a good attorney will have a comprehensive understanding of California law and what defense strategies are most successful in misdemeanor or felony shoplifting cases. Our defense team at Criminal Defense Attorney Los Angeles has extensive experience protecting the rights of clients facing shoplifting charges in Southern California and will do everything in their power to challenge the prosecution’s evidence against you. Depending on the circumstances of your case, we may be able to negotiate with the prosecutor to reach a favorable plea deal or an agreement on sentencing. We may even be able to get your charges reduced to a lesser offense or help you avoid a shoplifting conviction altogether, especially if you have no prior convictions and the nature of your alleged crime was minor. Contact our law firm today at (213) 205-3100 for a free shoplifting defense consultation.
California Penal Code § 495.5 PC defines the crime of shoplifting as entering a commercial establishment, during regular business hours, with the intent to steal merchandise valued at $950 or less. Intent is the key element of a California shoplifting crime; if the prosecutor in a shoplifting case can’t prove intent, the defendant cannot be convicted of Penal Code § 495.5 PC. Some examples of California shoplifting would be if two teenagers walk into a Los Angeles liquor store with a plan for one of them to distract the cashier while the other one steals two bottles of wine, or if a woman enters a jewelry store intending to steal a specific bracelet worth $400. It is important to note that California law does not require that the theft actually occurs for shoplifting to be charged, only that the intention was there. On the other hand, if a person enters a store and, once inside, decides to steal something, the crime does not constitute shoplifting under California law.
Conviction for Shoplifting Penal Code § 495.5 PC
Just because you have been arrested for or charged with shoplifting does not mean you will be convicted of the crime. The prosecution in a California shoplifting case bears the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt what is known as each “element” of the crime. The elements that the prosecutor assigned to your case will have to establish include that you:
- Entered a commercial establishment;
- While the establishment was open during normal business hours;
- With the intent to steal property worth $950 or less.
It is important to note that the legal definition of shoplifting includes the requirement that the defendant entered the commercial establishment with the intent to commit a theft crime already in place. Even if the theft doesn’t take place, if you enter a store with the intent to steal merchandise, and you are caught, you could be charged with shoplifting under Penal Code § 495.5 PC.
How is Shoplifting Different from Petty Theft?
Shoplifting (Penal Code § 495.5 PC) and petty theft (Penal Code § 484 and 488 PC) are very similar offenses in that they are both theft crimes occurring when a person steals property or goods valued at $950 or less with the intent to permanently deprive the rightful owner of the property. Shoplifting is actually covered under the umbrella of petty theft, a broad term that involves a number of criminal theft acts, including “borrowing” a $600 lawnmower from a neighbor with no intention of returning it and shoplifting $200 worth of makeup from a beauty store. In short, shoplifting is entering an open business intending to commit the crime of petty theft. Stealing merchandise worth more than $950 from a commercial establishment would fall under Penal Code § 487 PC grand theft.
Penalties for a Shoplifting Conviction
The crime of California shoplifting became its own offense in November 2014, when voters passed Proposition 47 to reduce certain theft crimes to misdemeanor offenses rather than felonies, with less severe penalties. Prior to that, criminal offenses now defined as shoplifting were charged under Penal Code § 459 PC burglary. If you are accused of stealing or attempting to steal merchandise from a store in Los Angeles, you can only be charged with shoplifting or petty theft, not both, and the criminal penalties associated with these offenses are the same for most defendants. Under Penal Code § 495.5 PC, shoplifting is usually a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to six months in county jail, misdemeanor probation, and/or a fine of up to $1,000. In some cases, including if you have a prior conviction for a serious or violent felony, California shoplifting may be charged as a felony offense, punishable by 16 months, two years or three years in county jail, felony probation, and/or up to $10,000 in fines. Some offenses related to Penal Code § 495.5 PC shoplifting include Penal Code § 484 and 488 PC petty theft, Penal Code § 487 PC grand theft, and Penal Code § 602 PC trespass.
Defenses to Shoplifting Charges
Shoplifting is a relatively minor offense, especially with the reduced charges established by Proposition 47, but a shoplifting conviction can still have devastating consequences for your personal and professional life. Fortunately, any person accused of a crime in California has the right to assert any argument that explains, justifies or excuses the alleged criminal behavior, and there are a number of legal defenses a skilled defense lawyer can present on your behalf to fight shoplifting charges. If you have been charged with shoplifting in Los Angeles, some defenses that may be helpful to your case include:
- Lack of intent to steal – If you didn’t intend to steal anything, you cannot be convicted of shoplifting
- Mistaken identity – If you happen to look like or have the same name as someone reported to the police for shoplifting, you may be able to use this as a defense
- Factual innocence – If you can show that you didn’t commit the crime and were arrested by mistake, you may be able to get the charges dismissed
- Ownership of property – If you can prove that you own the item you are accused of stealing, you cannot be convicted of shoplifting
- Permission – If you had permission from the owner of the store to take the merchandise, you cannot be convicted of shoplifting
- False accusation – If you were falsely accused by the store owner or another shopper, you may be able to use this as a defense
- Illegal search and seizure – If stolen merchandise was discovered as the result of an illegal search and seizure, you may be able to get the charges dismissed
Hiring a Qualified Shoplifting Defense Attorney in Los Angeles
Compared to more serious theft crimes like burglary and robbery, shoplifting may seem like an insignificant offense in terms of the lasting consequences suffered by convicted defendants. However, a shoplifting conviction in Los Angeles can still make your life unnecessarily complicated. For instance, if you submit an application for a new job or apartment and the employer or landlord runs a background check on you, he or she will see the conviction on your criminal record and may pass you up for someone without a record. To avoid this type of unfortunate situation, it is imperative that you hire a knowledgeable Los Angeles criminal defense attorney when facing charges of shoplifting in Southern California. Contact Criminal Defense Attorney Los Angeles today at (213) 205-3100 for a free initial consultation.