California Penal Code 459.5 PC punishes shoplifting crimes. Shoplifting occurs when you take goods from a store without paying for them. If caught shoplifting, you are charged and punished depending on the value of the stolen goods and your criminal record.

Shoplifting law states that if you willfully take any merchandise from any store or other commercial establishment, without paying its full price and with the intent to deprive the merchant of the possession permanently, you are sentenced to prison for at least one year or per subdivision (h) of Section 1170.

Since shoplifting penalties are harsh, you want to retain the services of a competent lawyer. We offer first-rate legal counsel, court representation, and robust defense strategies at Chula Vista Criminal Attorney.

California Shoplifting Laws

In California, you face shoplifting charges when you steal merchandise from a store or commercial establishment. Before the court can find you guilty of a PC 459.5 violation, the prosecution must prove particular crime elements, including:

  1. You entered a store, shop, or commercial premise as a suspect.
  2. You entered the shop during working hours and when it was open.
  3. You intended to steal merchandise worth $950 or below when entering the store.

Per shoplifting laws, stores, shops, or commercial establishments are where commodities are sold.

Example: Dynel enters a convenience store intending to steal a masking tape and scalpel, both worth approximately $200. He enters the shop and finds the items on the shelves. The guard on duty observes Dynel and notices their suspicious behavior. The guard follows Dynel and sees him putting the goods in his backpack. In this case, Dynel is guilty of shoplifting.

Dynel did not leave the store with the goods before the guard could catch him. Dynel is guilty even if he never left the store with stolen merchandise. California law does not require the prosecution to show that Dynel left the convenience shop with the goods.

Possible Sentencing to 459.5 PC Charges

Shoplifting is considered a misdemeanor in California. Possible punishment includes facing a jail sentence of not more than six months if found guilty. Additionally, the judge could impose a $1,000 fine. Your conviction will appear on your criminal record if found guilty of shoplifting. You might also be unable to take advantage of opportunities like scholarships, jobs, adequate housing, and college admissions.

Probation Instead of Jail Time for Shoplifting Convictions

If the court finds you guilty of shoplifting, you could avoid serving time in jail and be posted to probation. Hiring a skilled criminal defense lawyer will considerably increase your chances of receiving probation instead of a prison sentence if you are found guilty.

If found guilty of a misdemeanor crime in California, summary probation could be given to you in the place of a jail sentence. In many cases, your counsel and the prosecuting agency will agree on probation during a guilty plea deal. Additionally, the judge has complete discretion to give or deny you probation.

You must meet requirements while on probation, including:

  • Compensating your victim.
  • Partaking in individual or group therapy.
  • Completing community service.
  • Seeking a job opportunity.
  • Avoiding law violations.

Additionally, the court requires you to regularly report your progress to the judge. You risk facing an arrest if you do not report to the judge. After reviewing your case during progress reports, the judge may change the probation requirements. Usually, there is a probationary period of one to three years for shoplifting. You can file for a case expungement after completing the probationary period.

Shoplifting Consequences as an Immigrant

Contrary to other convictions, shoplifting does not negatively affect your immigration status. US immigration law states that certain criminal convictions can result in a non-US citizen being deported or considered inadmissible. For example, you are deported if found guilty of murder, a moral turpitude crime. Deportations cannot be the outcome of convictions under PC 459.5.

Shoplifting Convictions and Your Gun Rights

Under California law, you do not forfeit your right to own firearms if you are found guilty of shoplifting. Convicts in California could lose their rights to own or possess guns. However, the right to own or possess a gun cannot be taken away from you due to a conviction for theft.

The ideal way to regain your gun rights after being found guilty of a crime in California is to request a pardon from the governor. The Governor of California has the power to accept or reject pardon requests.

Shoplifting and the California Three Strikes Law

If you are found guilty of a 459.5 violation, your record will not be marked by a strike. Certain offenses in California are punishable by strikes, according to the law. Crimes like voluntary manslaughter, rape, arson, robbery, kidnapping, grand theft, extortion, or burglary are examples of major or violent felonies. You cannot receive a strike for shoplifting because it is a misdemeanor.

If you have a strike, any subsequent convictions might result in longer and more severe jail sentences. For example, if you receive a third strike, you could be sentenced to a 25-year or life sentence in state prison.

Enhancements for Shoplifting Penalties

You may face further sanctions depending on the situation after being found guilty of shoplifting. The typical punishment for a 459.5 PC violation is a fine of $1,000 or a sentence ranging from 1 day to 6 months in jail. If there are any aggravating elements, you can be sentenced to more time in jail or a fine that is higher than $1,000.

These aggravating elements include:

  • Prior convictions - If you have been convicted of shoplifting before, your sentence will be lengthier. Note that the judge may still consider an erased conviction when determining punishment.
  • Gun enhancements — If you stole something while carrying a gun or were discovered with a gun while shoplifting, your sentence will be enhanced. If you attempted to shoplift a firearm or stole one, your punishment is also harsher. Additionally, your gun rights are immediately forfeited if found guilty.
  • Minors involved - If you shoplifted or attempted to shoplift in the presence of a minor or they helped you, you would receive a harsh penalty.
  • Crimes committed to supporting gangs - You attract harsh sentencing enhancements if you shoplifted to support a gang. You might be sentenced to two years to life in state prison if you attempted to shoplift or did so to support a criminal street gang.

Consequences of Shoplifting an Item Whose Worth Exceeds $950

According to 487 PC, you face grand theft charges if you shoplift something worth more than $950. Penal Code 487 states that taking someone else's property is illegal if it is worth more than $950.

The crime of grand theft is a wobbler. This implies that the crime could be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the prosecutor's judgment and the specifics of your case. The maximum sentence you can receive if found guilty of a misdemeanor grand theft accusation is one year in jail. Felony grand theft charges carry harsher punishments. If you have been found guilty, you might spend 16 months, 2, or 3 years behind bars.

Possible Defense Strategies Against 459.5 PC Charges

Shoplifting is frequently regarded as a misdemeanor crime. However, if you are found guilty, your record will follow you forever and negatively impact every aspect of your life, including your career and relationships.

With the assistance of a competent criminal attorney, you can develop a strong defense that will challenge the accusations and attempt to have them dropped or reduced. Even if your criminal history is unclear, you do not want to let your life spiral out of control by assuming you are guilty just because you have been charged.

A skilled attorney can assist you in avoiding the 36 months in prison and $10,000 court penalties that come with a conviction. The following are legal defenses to the charges of shoplifting:

Yours is a Case of Mistaken Identity

Your attorney may challenge the eyewitnesses used by the prosecutor. They can carefully cross-examine the witness to further undermine the eyewitness's testimony or convince them that you are not the correct suspect. This argument frequently applies in the majority of shoplifting situations. You will be found not guilty if you can prove yours is a case of mistaken identity.

You Repaid the Business Owner Via a Civil Compromise

A civil compromise occurs when you, the accused, agree to reimburse your victim for any loss you caused to their business. In return, the owner drops charges against you. An example of a loss to a business could be:

  • The expenses used in loss prevention.
  • Damages for lost goods.

Police Misconduct

Police officers should investigate cases according to the law, but occasionally they stray from the guidelines, rendering the data acquired inadmissible in court. Investigation errors might occasionally be the result of inexperience with shoplifting situations.

Because of racial discrimination, police officers sometimes fabricate evidence to coerce you into confessing. Even when they search and seize without a warrant, the police may misbehave.

If any of these instances of police misconduct happen in your case, your defense attorney might submit a Pitchess motion. The pitches motions ask the court to investigate the officer to determine whether other misconduct allegations have been made against them in the past.

Your lawyer may contend that you are a victim of the officer's wrongdoing, just like in the prior cases, if the officer has a history of misconduct, which would result in the case being dismissed.

You Performed Certain Acts Under an Informal Diversion Program

You enter an informal diversion program after pleading guilty to your crime or agreeing to do certain acts to avoid a guilty judgment. Once you make this agreement, the guilty plea stays until you finish the stipulated activities.

Example: Sheila is facing a shoplifting charge. The judge presiding over her lawsuit offers her entry into an informal diversion program. The judge posts Sheila to 25-hour community service and orders her to restitute the business owner for the shoplifted merchandise. The court grants Sheila up to 5 months to complete her community service and compensate the business owner.

Sheila completes what the court orders within the time frame. Upon returning to court, the judge found that she had done everything per the instructions. In return, the judge does not enter a guilty judgment, and Sheila is acquitted of her charges.

Yours is a Case of Mistake of Fact

If you think you were mistaken, you can use this defense. This argument is typically used to show that you did not intend to shoplift. For instance, if the store's goods mirror your own, you might have mistakenly thought they were yours. You can use this defense to get an acquittal in such a case.

You Developed an After-Entry Intent

When you enter a commercial building with no intention of stealing something, this situation is known as having after-entry intent. Instead, you want to shoplift once you are inside the shop. Because shoplifting requires that you have a stealing intent before entering the establishment, your attorney may be able to use this as a legal defense. You may face petty theft punishment even if you are not found guilty of a 459.5 violation.

Immigration Consequences

Theft crimes are typically deportable, whereas petty larceny is not. So, if you are an immigrant facing grand larceny accusations, you must seek legal counsel as soon as possible. The only way to remain in the country may be to have your charges reduced to a crime for which you are not subject to deportation or dismissed.

Conviction Expungement

Following Penal Code 1203.4, a defendant may make a new not guilty plea after withdrawing a no contest or guilty plea. If approved, you will not be subject to any negative repercussions from a conviction. PC 1203.4 permits those convicted of felonies or misdemeanors to have their convictions overturned if they meet specific requirements.

An expungement is especially helpful since it exempts you from the consequences and restrictions of the conviction. For instance, you are not required to reveal your conviction on a job application to a prospective employer.

The ban-the-box law in California prohibits employers from requesting information about your criminal background unless they have made you a conditional offer of employment. This obstacle is removed by conviction. Even if your employer extends a conditional offer of employment to you, you are not required to disclose any information about you before that employer.

Can Store Owners Legally Detain a Shoplifter?

According to PC 490.5, a store owner has the right to detain a customer if there is reason to believe the person is a shoplifter. But there are three limitations to this right:

  • The length of the detention is reasonable; nonetheless, the judge will decide what is appropriate. However, the time you are detained while waiting for a police officer to show up is regarded by the law as reasonable.
  • The only purpose of detention is to enable inquiries into potential shoplifting.
  • The store owner detains a suspected shoplifter by using reasonable, non-lethal force; the force must be necessary for the owner to protect themself and to prevent the suspect from escaping.

How Did Proposition 47 Affect The Crime Of Shoplifting?

California approved Proposition 47 in 2014. Shoplifting was added to the California PC 459.5 by Proposition 47, also known as the Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative. Before the initiative, the law classified a violation of PC 459.5 as a break-in. You may be charged with a felony if you are arrested.

If you were previously convicted of burglary but had committed shoplifting offenses instead before the new law, the initiative has a provision that applies to you. You can request a resentencing under Prop 47. Your sentence could be changed from felony burglary to misdemeanor shoplifting if the judge grants your motion.

Related Crimes to Shoplifting

In California, the prosecution may charge you with certain crimes in addition to or instead of shoplifting, including:

Burglary, Penal Code 459

According to PC 459, burglary is defined as entering a building, room, or structure with the intent to commit a criminal or theft once there. The crime of shoplifting is a type of burglary. You must acquire entry to a public business place to commit petty theft or take things worth less than $950 without paying.

Remember that shoplifting offenses only apply in cases of petty theft, which is typically a misdemeanor and in which the worth of the stolen property is no more than $950. On the other hand, if you intend to commit a felony after gaining entry to the property, you could be charged with burglary.

Petty Theft, Penal Code 484

If you steal another person's property worth $950 or less, the California Department of Prosecution accuses you of petty theft under PC 484. The difference between shoplifting and small-time theft is that the former entails taking from an open establishment.

Petty theft, on the other hand, entails a person stealing in any setting or circumstance. Petty theft falls into the misdemeanor category, just like shoplifting. The maximum jail sentence for this crime is six months in county jail, and the maximum fine is $1,000.

Grand Theft, Penal Code 487

The statute that outlaws grand theft is California PC 487. If you take something from someone else worth more than $950, you will be charged with grand theft. There are two critical distinctions between significant theft and shoplifting:

  • You commit grand theft when you steal something that costs more than $950.
  • You commit shoplifting when you take items from an open shop. The items must cost below $950.

Grand theft is classified as a wobbler offense in California. Both felonies and misdemeanors may be brought against you by the prosecution. The circumstances of your case determine whether the prosecution will charge you with a misdemeanor or felony grand theft.

You might spend a year in jail if found guilty of misdemeanor grand theft. If found guilty of felony grand theft, you can also be sentenced to felony probation and a year or less in jail. You could be sentenced to a 16-month, two-year, or three-year imprisonment if a gun was not used.

Keep in mind that grand theft of a firearm is a crime in California. A defendant may get a sentence of sixteen months, two years, or three years in prison if found guilty. Grand theft is also punishable under California PC 1192.7(C), a  serious felony according to California law. According to California's three-strikes legislation, the offense carries a strike.

In addition to the punishments listed above, the court may enhance your punishments if you are found guilty of a felony and the value of the items you stole is high. The enhancements to the sentence include adding:

  • One year if the value of the stolen property exceeded $65,000.
  • Two years if the value of the stolen property exceeded $200,000.
  • Three years if the value of the stolen property exceeded $1,300,000.
  • Four years in the property you stole exceeded $3,200,000.

The judge adds all of the items you stole as part of one plot or scheme to determine the total value of the stuff you stole. Additionally, you might be charged with more than one grand theft violation if you conduct repeated grand theft charges against the same plaintiff.

Find a Profound Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

The new Proposition 47 legislation established in 2014 could help you if accused of shoplifting. Depending on the value of the item you stole, a conviction for the crime can still have disastrous implications on your job and personal life, even though the penalty for the act has been greatly lowered.

The prosecution's team must prove elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt during the trial. Therefore, you must have an experienced criminal lawyer at your side to refute the evidence used against you.

At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we have helped many clients facing shoplifting charges have their charges lowered or not dismissed. Do not hesitate to contact us at 619-877-6894 for a free assessment of your charges if you require more assistance with your criminal theft case.