A first offense of shoplifting (often called retail theft) is one of the few crimes in California that is committed by women more often than men. Shoplifting can occur in any type of retail establishment, including large department stores, small specialty shops, supermarkets, drug stores, and convenience stores.

Under California Penal Code Sections 484(a) & 488, the crime of “petty theft” is the unlawful taking of property that is valued at nine hundred fifty dollars ($950) or less. Most petty theft cases involve “theft by larceny” when one person takes property that belongs to another person.

Although shoplifting offenses were once prosecuted under Penal Code 488 as petty theft, shoplifting offenses are now prosecuted under the separate section of the California Penal Code – Section 459.5. Under Proposition 47, shoplifting property worth $950 or less is now charged as a misdemeanor. In most cases, the charge can no longer be filed as a burglary in the second degree, which is a “wobbler” between a felony and a misdemeanor.

Both petty theft and shoplifting are misdemeanors under California law punishable by a fine up to one thousand dollars ($1,000) or by up to six (6) months in the county jail. Shoplifting (also known as “retail theft”) became a separate offense in November 2014 as part of Proposition 47. Shoplifting offenses under Penal Code 459.5 involve entering a commercial or retail establishment while it is open, with the intent to steal items worth $950 or less.

Attorney for Shoplifting Cases in San Francisco, CA

If you were charged with any form of shoplifting from a retail establishment in San Francisco, then contact a criminal defense attorney at Ticket Crushers. Our attorneys represent clients throughout the greater San Francisco Bay Area. We provide compassionate representation to help you fight for the best possible result in the case.

Call 1 (866) 842-5384 today to discuss your case and possible defenses to the charges during a free and confidential consultation. Let us put our experience to work for you.

Defenses in Retail Theft Cases in San Francisco

In shoplifting cases, legal defenses can include:

  • The taking was an accident because you became distracted
  • The taking was an accident because you thought that you had paid for the item
  • You brought the item into the store with you and didn’t steal anything from the store
  • The retail establishment consented to you taking the item without paying for it, or
  • You were framed or falsely accused by an employee at the store, the loss prevention employee, or another customer

To find out more about defenses to a theft charge that might be available in your case, contact an attorney in San Francisco, CA, at Ticket Crushers to learn about the best ways to fight your charges.

California Penal Code Section 459.5 for Shoplifting

Under California Penal Code Section 459.5, shoplifting is defined as:

  • Entering a commercial or retail establishment;
  • During a time when the establishment is open for business;
  • With the intent to steal property or merchandise with a value of $950 or less.

Because shoplifting focuses on your intention to steal, it is important to keep in mind that a conviction for shoplifting does not necessarily require proof that you actually succeeded in stealing the items and leaving the store.

Enhanced Penalties for Shoplifting with a Prior Conviction

Even after the passage of Proposition 47, shoplifting will be treated as grand theft if you have one of the following prior convictions on your record:

  • A conviction for a sex crime that requires registration under California’s Sex Offender Registration Act, or
  • A serious felony listed in Penal Code § 667(e)(2)(C) (including murder, attempted murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, forcible sex crimes, and sex crimes against children under § 14.29)

Shoplifting as Petty Theft vs. Grand Theft

To determine whether a shoplifting offense can be charged as grand theft or petty theft, the “fair market value” of the item taken must be determined. In shoplifting cases, the price tag usually determines the value of the property.

Shoplifting Reduced to an Infraction

California Penal Code Section 490.1 provides that when the petty theft involves a taking of property or merchandise that does not exceed fifty dollars ($50), then the shoplifting offense can be charged as either a misdemeanor or an infraction, at the discretion of the prosecutor, if the person has no other theft-related conviction. Shoplifting offenses charged as an infraction are punishable by a fine of up to $250.

Diversion Programs in San Francisco for Shoplifting

For many shoplifting cases, your case may be resolved as part of a diversion program even if it is not eligible for reduction to an infraction. Most formal and informal diversion programs require you to pay restitution, complete community service and take an anti-shoplifting class.

Shoplifting with a Prior Offense under Penal Code § 666

Under California Penal Code § 666, “Petty Theft with a Prior,” if you have previously been convicted and served time for certain theft crimes, you may face increased penalties for a subsequent petty theft or shoplifting conviction.

The Impact of Proposition 47 on Shoplifting Crimes

On November 4, 2014, California voters enacted Proposition 47 which went into effect the next day. Proposition 47 reclassified certain theft and drug-related crimes from felonies to misdemeanors unless they were committed by ineligible defendants. As it relates to theft crimes, Proposition 47 also established a procedure for qualifying defendants to petition for recall and modification of their prior convictions and sentences. (§ 1170.18, subd. (a).)

As part of its reclassifying provisions, Proposition 47 added a new crime called “shoplifting.” The new offense of “shoplifting” in Section 459.5 provides:

“(a) … shoplifting is defined as entering a commercial establishment with intent to commit larceny while that establishment is open during regular business hours, where the value of the property that is taken or intended to be taken does not exceed nine hundred fifty dollars ($950). Any other entry into a commercial establishment with intent to commit larceny is burglary. Shoplifting shall be punished as a misdemeanor, except [when the defendant has a disqualifying prior conviction].

(b) Any act of shoplifting as defined in subdivision (a) shall be charged as shoplifting. No person who is charged with shoplifting may also be charged with burglary or theft of the same property.”

Under the new statutory scheme, some theft acts will not meet the colloquial definition of “shoplifting” because shoplifting requires an “intent to commit larceny.” The crime of larceny in California requires the taking of another’s property, with the intent to steal and carry it away.

Under this larceny definition, the term ‘taking’ has two aspects:

  1. achieving possession of the property (also known as “caption”); and
  2. carrying the property away (often known as “asportation”).

“[L]arceny requires a ‘trespassory taking,’ which is a taking without the property owner’s consent.” See People v. Williams, 57 Cal.4th 776, 788, 161 Cal.Rptr.3d 81, 305 P.3d 1241 (2013). Some types of theft involving fraud or misrepresentation, do not meet this definition because the property owner gives the property with consent.

Statistics on Shoplifting Crimes in California

Many business owners in California complain that since California voters reduced theft penalties for theft offenses by enacting Proposition 47, the number of shoplifting offenses has increased significantly. In addition to lowering the penalties for shoplifting and other forms of theft, the ballot measure also lowered penalties for forgery, fraud, petty theft and drug possession.

Small business owners, who are hit hardest by shoplifting crimes, report an increase in shoplifting offenses in the last two years. Additionally, many large retailers including CVS pharmacies, Rite Aid, Target or Safeway complain about a significant increase in shoplifting offenses since voters approved Proposition 47 which ended the possibility of charging shoplifting as a felony with the potential for a prison sentence as long as the amount taken is under $950.

Business owners complain that when merchandise valued at less than $950 is stolen, thieves have little fear or being aggressively pursued or investigated by local law enforcement officials. Local law enforcement agencies are also reporting a spike in reports of shoplifting but have fewer resources to go after the increased number of misdemeanor offenses.

Shoplifting statistics compiled by Public Policy Institute of California researcher Magnus Lofstrom found an increase in property crime for many of California’s largest cities in the first six months after Proposition 47 went into effect. FBI crime reports show a 12 percent jump in larceny-theft, which includes the crime of shoplifting.

The Problem with Organized Retail Theft Shoplifting Rings in California

The biggest problem for retailers involves the problem of organized retail theft rings that recruit individuals to commit the most profitable shoplifting offenses for certain items with certain retailers. Known as organized shoplifting, the items are stolen to be resold instead of just taken for the thrill of it and personal use.

Other organizations, such as The Pew Charitable Trusts, disputes the statistics showing an increase in theft crimes and shoplifting crimes in particular. This group found no effect on larceny rates and property crimes in 23 states that increased the threshold to charge thefts as felonies instead of misdemeanors between 2001 and 2011. In 2010, the State of California raised its threshold from $400.

The State of California has yet to enact crimes specifically prohibiting organized retail crime that target shoplifting rings with tougher penalties although public pressure for such a change in the law is becoming apparent.

Additional Resources

California Laws and Statistics for Shoplifting — Visit the website for the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention to learn more about the shoplifting laws in California for petty theft and grand theft offenses. Also, find statistics gathered as the result of years of research with thousands of shoplifting offenders.

Finding an Attorney for Shoplifting Charges in San Francisco, California

If you were charged with shoplifting or retail theft in San Francisco, CA, then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at . We represent clients on a variety of property crimes and theft crimes, including larceny, embezzlement, and extortion.

Call to discuss your case with an experienced theft crimes attorney in San Francisco, CA, during a free and confidential consultation. Whether you are charged with retail theft or petty theft, let us put our experience to work for you.

Call 1 (866) 842-5384 today.