Day-by-day, businesses, and retail stores in the state of California face the risk of shoplifting crimes. This is due to the robust economy that attracts millions of visitors from different parts of the country. However, under California law, shoplifting is a severe crime that can significantly tarnish your name and reputation. If the shop owners or law enforcers catch you in the act of shoplifting, you will need to contact the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney for help.

Legal Definition of Shoplifting Under California Law

Many people refer to shoplifting as petty theft. However, it is a fraction of petty theft that is defined under California's Penal Code section 495.5. As per the Penal Code, a shoplifting case involves a person's conduct that poses or has the intent of snatching items or personal property of another individual in a store or business. This may be in the form of carrying away, taking or concealing the item in your pocket without the owner's permission.

While some people may argue that shoplifting only involves one getting away with the product from the retail store or business, it is not the case. California Law emphasizes that the moment you had the intention of stealing, and you ended up entering the store or business establishment, you shall have already fallen culprit of the violation. It is essential to note that if you manage to exit the establishment with the stolen item, you are likely to be incriminated with petty theft, exclusive from a shoplifting crime. 

Even though a conviction for shoplifting may seem insignificant, being indicted for the crime can cause a ripple consequence that disrupts your life. It carries with it hefty penalties based on the value of the item in question. For the crime to stand, the prosecutor needs to prove that:

  • The defendant was inside the store when the act happened
  • The defendant had an intention of stealing, snatching or concealing items in the store or business
  • The defendant's action was done during regular working hours
  • The defendant took items summing up to nine hundred and fifty dollars ($950) or less

In a scenario whereby you intend to commit such an act and in the process fail to leave the establishment with the item, you will be charged with shoplifting under California law. Simply concealing the items for sale, within or outside the store, will often be enough to incriminate you. To add to the list is hiding merchandise to avoid paying for it.

The shoplifting laws make it clear that it is illegal to take actions of avoiding to pay in full the purchase price for a property or merchandise. This entails altering price tags, manipulating items for sale, as well as putting goods into different packaging to avoid paying all or part of the set price. Such a conviction might be indicted as an infraction, facing either a misdemeanor or a felony charge if you have an existing record of shoplifting of more than three times.

Effects of Proposition 47

The state of California is famous for its stringent laws. It is advisable to enlist the assistance of a credible attorney for safety to cope up and be well conversant with these laws. Proposition 47, well acknowledged as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, was passed by voters in 2014 to reduce sentences of certain crimes that had been wobblers. It means that you will be indicted for a misdemeanor or a felony for the shoplifting incident.

Since shoplifting falls under the 'wobbler' category, Proposition 47 Act significantly helps in increasing the possibilities of evading felony charges for the crimes. Therefore, if you or a loved one faces allegations of shoplifting, you may enlist the services of a skilled criminal defense attorney for a credible defense strategy.

What Must the Prosecutor Prove to Convict You of Shoplifting?

For a conviction in a shoplifting case, the prosecutor needs to get all the facts right and be able to prove every component of a shoplifting offense beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecutor must prove that:

  1. The Defendant Stole the Merchandise on Sale

For a shoplifting crime to stand a chance, there must be proof of the item or property taken by the defendant. The prosecutor, in this case, must provide substantial evidence linking the defendant to the crime. Witnesses may support this evidence, including other merchants present during the incident.

  1. The Defendant Intentionally took the Merchandise or Property from its Rightful Holder with no Intention of Returning it

The prosecutor needs to provide proof that the defendant had planned to steal or conceal the other person's item long enough without caring whether the owner will miss it.

  1. The Defendant Transferred the Property Far Away from the Rightful Holder for a Long Time without Permission

For the defendant to be held liable for violating the shoplifting laws, the prosecutor must provide proof without reasonable doubt that the accused willingly carried away the lawful owner's property or merchandise and moved it to a location that is not known by the owner. The evidence must also portray the period at which the merchandise was separated from its owner to support the case.

  1. The Defendant Failed to Pay for the Item on Sale

The prosecution must provide proof that you were in possession of the merchandise, and you attempted to sneak it out of the store without paying for it. This proof may be in the form of merchants and security guard's testimonials regarding your suspicious movements and their approach to apprehend you while at the store.

Penalties for Shoplifting Crimes

Since the enactment of Proposition 47, most defendants facing charges of shoplifting and other theft crimes have enjoyed lighter sentences. Shoplifting, in this case, is one among the wobbler crimes, has seen many defendants face misdemeanor under California law. However, it is crucial to pinpoint that convictions differ based on the severity of the case.

Misdemeanor Shoplifting

If you are charged with a shoplifting offense, without any infuriating factors, as a first time offender of goods not more than $950 in value, your case will be treated as a misdemeanor. For this reason, you are likely to face statutory penalties of serving time in a county jail for not more than six months, along with serving time is payment of fines not exceeding $1,000. Also, you may serve probation time of three years while participating in community service.

However, if the defendant is being charged with a first-time offense of shoplifting merchandise with a value not exceeding $50, the penalties may be reduced. Your criminal defense attorney may negotiate your case with the prosecutor to an infringement. This may include completing a diversion plan as opposed to serving prison time and paying fines. It means that if you're found guilty of committing this crime, you possibly will face a statutory penalty of paying fines not exceeding $250.

Felony Shoplifting

If your record comprises of a criminal charge prior to shoplifting, then your case may be categorized under the wobbler effect. This means that you can either be convicted as a misdemeanor or a felony. If at all you face charges of California felony, you are susceptible to facing severe penalties. A felony conviction means serving time in state prison for a period of three years. You will also be required to pay a fine not exceeding $10,000. In addition, you will be obligated to participate in a felony probation program.

Based on the item's logical and fair market worth, it can significantly influence the severity of the case as well as the type of sentence the defendant will face. Therefore, in a situation whereby shoplifting entails stolen merchandise that is worth more than $950, the charge can be aggravated to grand theft. Aside from having an existing criminal record prior to the crime, a first-time offender may also face a felony charge in a situation whereby the offense involved an infuriating factor, such as shoplifting while armed.

What are the Common Defenses for Shoplifting Charges?

However much a crime may seem minor, it entails harsh penalties and consequences that require the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney. You may be wondering what is next for you the moment you are caught on the act. Luckily, under California law, a defendant is entitled to legal representation to defend their actions against the claims levied against them.

You can hire the services of a credible Los Angeles Criminal attorney to help you through the case. Your attorney will take time to comprehensively investigate the case, as well as try to navigate through the criminal defense system to get a more reliable defense path to lead the defendant. Fortunately, there are several defenses your attorney may make use of to try and beat the prosecutor's case. These include:

  1. Lack of Intent to Steal the Items

For you to be convicted of the charge, you must meet all the elements of the crime that provides for having the intention of committing the act. While you are shopping, you might not have intended to steal the merchandise. Situations such as shopping while fatigued, distracted, or absent-minded may have led you to pick some merchandise and leave the store without paying for it accidentally.

Again, the timing of the intent is also essential. You need to have intended to commit the crime at the time you entered the business establishment. If you only formed the intention after you were inside, you are not guilty of shoplifting. Therefore, your legal representative may use this argument as evidence of you not having the intent of taking the merchandise.

  1. If you Mistakenly Took an Item Thinking it was Yours

Making mistakes is a common occurrence for everyone. A scenario may arise whereby you saw an item that looks the same as yours, and you assumed that it belongs to you. However, without knowing that it belongs to another person, you face accusations of shoplifting. In such a situation, the criminal defense attorney may use this argument against the case pleading that it was a mistaken identity, as you believed the item belonged to you.

  1. If You were Wrongly Accused of the Crime

For you to be charged with shoplifting charges, the prosecutor must prove that you indeed were the cause of the incident and was present at the time the merchandise was stolen. This information is usually provided by eyewitnesses and merchants that were present during the scene. However, cases of false accusation in shoplifting are common.

Your criminal defense attorney conducts a comprehensive investigation typically as well to get clues and facts of what happened at the scene. A case may pop out whereby the witnesses and merchants had no clue of the defendant's identity and in the process, fail to identify you as the suspect. For this reason, the attorney may raise the argument that you were falsely accused, given the fact that the witnesses and the relevant personnel at the scene were not sure that you were the cause of shoplifting.

  1. A Case of a Civil Compromise

A civil compromise can be redefined as a shoplifter agreeing to repay the owner of the business for any losses or damages caused on the merchandise to solve the matter without facing prosecution. Under California law, a civil compromise is treated as a misdemeanor. Thus a prosecutor may not decide on the type of charge to be imposed on the defendant as well as not to decline to file the charges on behalf of the victim.

  1. If You Believed to have the Owner's Permission to take the Merchandise

Another defense strategy that may be used by the attorney is if the item's owner gave you consent to receive the object without specifying the returning period. With this information, your attorney may reasonably argue that you had permission from the owner to carry away or take the merchandise in question.

  1. If there was a Police Misconduct

Cases of police officers responding to allegations in an inexperienced manner are not uncommon. This is mostly attributed to their negative perception that may include harboring some biases against a particular group of suspects. For this reason, you may be prone to certain forms of police misconduct, such as:

  • Violation of the Fourth Amendment rule that protects your rights against unreasonable searches
  • Fabrication of evidence to incriminate you
  • Coercing your confession.

If police misconduct is presumed in your shoplifting case, the criminal defense attorney can file a Pitchess motion against the police officer. This motion allows the defendant to see whether other accused parties had made similar complaints about the police officer in the past. If the report shows that the police officer falls in some pattern of police misconduct, then the prosecutor and judge may dismiss the shoplifting charges.

Related Offenses and Additional Statutory Penalties

There are a few offenses that relate to shoplifting crimes and can be charged alongside it. Here are some examples:

Petty Theft

Petty theft is similar to shoplifting. As per section 488 of the Penal Code, it entails a defendant stealing services or property of another person that is worth nine hundred and fifty dollars or less. However, it slightly contrasts with shoplifting, as it involves the act of entering the retail store or other business establishments with an intention to steal the property. If you manage to leave the establishment, you may suffer petty theft charges instead. Under California law, a petty theft crime is treated as a misdemeanor carrying a maximum county penitentiary sentence of six months.

Trespassing

Section 602 of the Penal Code defines trespassing as the act of a person trying to access or enter another person's property without their consent. To some extent, it may differ with shoplifting, as it involves a person entering an establishment at regular working hours, which is legal for the defendant. At the point of committing the crime, however, the shop owner or merchant may have been agitated, thus turning hostile to the defendant to leave the establishment at once. For such a case, the prosecutor may charge the defendant for trespassing. Trespassing usually is charged as a misdemeanor, and in some rare instances, it may be regarded as an infraction.

Find a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Facing shoplifting charges can be embarrassing and detrimental to your record. A simple allegation may dent your reputation as well as your freedom. It further affects your chances of securing employment and other opportunities, thus affecting your life’s growth potential. Shoplifting charges should not derail your life. The best way to fight this is to have a good defense team. Enlisting the services of our credible and experienced attorneys at the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney will help you beat the prosecutor's case. We will navigate through the criminal defense system and find a better defense path to protect you from a wrongful conviction. Feel free to contact us at 424-333-0943 for reliable support.