Many people take shoplifting as a light offense and imagine they can get away with it. Unfortunately, when one receives a conviction for shoplifting, they will face stiff penalties that include fines and jail time. The stiff penalties act as a deterrent to discourage shoplifters from their behavior. When found shoplifting, the store will report you, and misdemeanors will be brought against you. A conviction will earn you not only penalties but also a criminal record in your background. This will have dire consequences when getting a job or residential premises.
Getting a criminal lawyer to defend you against these allegations is, however, necessary. A lawyer can help you prevent a wrongful conviction, get charged with a lesser offense, or get you acquitted altogether. Our team of lawyers at The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm can defend you favorably against these allegations.
Defining the Crime of Shoplifting
According to PEN 459.5, shoplifting is when a person enters a commercial entity planning to steal from the establishment while it is open on typical business hours. The stolen property, according to the statute, should not be valued at over $950.
For instance, a person can see a particular necklace at a store and enters it intending to steal it when the jewelry is valued at $600. A person can also enter a store to buy an item and sneak another one in their bag or their person to avoid paying for it. For instance, a person entering a store to buy clothes, she picks several pieces and goes to try them. On coming out, he or she has worn an item underneath their clothes to avoid them getting detected and pays for some items instead.
Proving Shoplifting Laws in California
When you get accused of shoplifting, the prosecution must have sufficient evidence against you to get a conviction. There are certain elements or facts of the offense a prosecutor must establish before you get convicted of violating PEN 459.5. These elements to the crime include:
- The defendant went into the commercial or business entity
- And at the time, was open and it was during typical business hours
- And the defendant went in intending to steal items worth $950 or below
A commercial entity or establishment, as defined by the law, is a place where the transaction of goods and services takes place.
When a person enters a store intending to steal a pair of earrings worth $700, she may locate them and put them in the purse. If they are spotted by a store attendant or through the camera, charges for shoplifting may be brought against them. In this case, the person did not leave the store with the merchandise, which is not a requirement in finding a person guilty of shoplifting.
Penalties for PEN 459.5 Violations
When accused of shoplifting, you will face prosecution on misdemeanor charges. Once a prosecutor proves the above-discussed elements, a guilty verdict is a likely outcome. The penalties when convicted on this offense include:
- County jail sentence for six months or less
- $1,000 in fines or less
Possible Legal Defenses
When accused of criminal charges, you should never take the allegations lightly. Getting a lawyer to fight these allegations on your behalf is essential to avoid a conviction or harsh penalties. Your lawyer will study the prosecutor’s case and determine its strength, as well as the evidence against you. The statements from the prosecutor’s witnesses will also get analyzed by your attorney to formulate a solid defense.
There are many ways an accused person can get defended against these allegations. Exploring the various options is essential in avoiding a conviction on the offense. Some of these defenses include:
When a person gets caught shoplifting, he or she may request to be allowed to pay back the losses to the business. This act is what is known as civil compromise. When the defendant agrees to pay the store for the merchandise lost or any other loss, the business will, in return, not pursue prosecution. The damages a defendant may be asked to pay to include:
- Lost or damaged merchandise and
- The cost incurred preventing losses
The law does not impose how much a store should charge a person found shoplifting. Each shop has its policies with regard to shoplifting. Some stores may opt to charge a shoplifter three times the value of the item taken and still return the item. The hefty charges by many store operators are to deter shoplifting and encourage honest shopping.
A lawyer is required if you suspect the store owners can go back on their word to help draw an agreement. Sometimes, the accused person may need their lawyer to negotiate on their behalf with the store owners. In the negotiations, the accused person may request the store owner to drop the charges against the accused in return for payment. If a store owner agrees to this, the charges against you will get dismissed, and you will have no conviction in your record.
This is a better way for an accused person to avoid a conviction, especially when there is sufficient evidence against them. The consequences of a sentence can be far-reaching, and if one can avoid a conviction, it is a better option.
Informal diversion is another ingenious way of avoiding a conviction in your record. With this, a defendant is offered a deal by the court. He or she must agree to plead guilty to the offense, but perform specific tasks to prevent a criminal conviction. The guilty plea taken in court stays in place until the defendant completes the functions to the satisfaction of the court.
For instance, Carol gets charged with PEN 459.5 violations. She gets accused in court, but the judge offers her the informal diversion program. She is asked to engage in community service tasks for thirty hours, and also pay for the stolen merchandise. When she agrees, she gets asked to enter a guilty plea. The judge gives her five months to complete the hours and payback for the goods taken.
After five months, Carol goes back to court with evidence that she completed the hours and paid back for the goods. When the judge is satisfied, she is not required to plead not guilty. Instead, her record will be clean with no criminal charges in it.
As earlier said, this is an excellent way to avoid a conviction for shoplifting charges. The judge examines the circumstances of the offense and the criminal record of the defendant before giving this option. This means, not every person accused of shoplifting would qualify for the diversion program. When the prosecution has sufficient evidence against you and the judge offers you an informal diversion program, it is one of the best options to avoid a conviction.
Mistake of Fact
Mistake of fact is a defense strategy when the accused person had no intention of stealing the item they were accused of taking at the store. One of the critical elements in proving a shoplifting offense is showing the accused had the plan to steal. Using this defense, an attorney must show that the defendant had no intention of taking, but it was, in fact, a mistake.
For instance, Jackie loves bangles and can’t seem to have enough. She enters into a store and starts trying some on. Unfortunately, she confuses a bracelet as one of the ones she came wearing and proceeds to pay for the ones she picked. A store clerk notices her and stops her for shoplifting.
In such a case, Jackie cannot be found guilty of the offense because she had no intention of stealing, and the act was an honest mistake. Without proving that Jackie had the intention of stealing the bangle, the charges against her would get dropped.
After Entry Intent
Again, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant entered a store intending to steal the item they got found with. When a person enters a shop to buy things usually, he or she can notice something they feel they must have and do not have the money to buy it. The person can make a decision there and then steal the item from the shop.
When the intention was made after entering the store, then the defendant is not guilty of shoplifting. A shoplifting conviction requires a person to have had the plan to steal before entering the business premises.
However, the prosecutor, when not able to prove intent, can charge you with petty theft instead. This is another offense that is closely related to shoplifting, as will be discussed in detail later.
Immigration Consequences When Convicted on Shoplifting Charges
When one is an immigrant, one of the biggest questions when faced with an allegation is the consequences of their immigration status if convicted of the offense. Rightfully so, it is a crucial concern considering one can get deported or declared inadmissible.
Crimes that involve moral turpitude will, in most cases, result in the deportation of an immigrant. Or a declaration of one being inadmissible. Fortunately, shoplifting is not a crime of moral turpitude. A conviction on this offense will not have negative repercussions on your immigration status.
On the other hand, having a conviction on your record will affect your ability to find gainful employment and even rental premises to live in.
Getting an Expungement for Your Shoplifting Conviction
A criminal conviction, no matter how petty or minor it can be, will taint your record. In California, a conviction in your history is public information, and any person running a background check on you will come across it. This can be devastating when you are looking for a job or a house. Although a potential employer or landlord will not let you know why they refuse to give you a job or rent you a home, a conviction is a significant factor.
Fortunately, California allows convicts to get their records expunged once they have served their sentence satisfactorily. Any person convicted of a crime must consider expunging their criminal record. When your record gets deleted, it will mean it is no longer available in the public domain. A potential employer or landlord when searching on your background will not come across the record. When your record gets deleted, the law does not require you to disclose your criminal past to anyone.
However, there are instances that you will be required to disclose your criminal record. These include when you are applying for a job in a public office or as a peace officer.
To get your record expunged, your lawyer will help you file a petition with the court for expungement. An expungement is, however, at the discretion of the judge after considering the following:
- If you completed your probation satisfactorily and adhered to all the conditions of the probation
- If you got sentenced to other penalties, did you complete the jail sentence or other penalties imposed such as payment of fines
When the judge is satisfied with the above conditions and the prosecutor does not oppose the expungement of your record, then your petition gets granted. Your record gets deleted, and you will be like you never had a criminal record in your past.
Loss Prevention Officers and their Duties
These are private individuals hired by stores to provide security and prevent shoplifting. They are found on the store floor, and their work is to monitor shoppers. The officers are different from law enforcement officers. They do not have a legal mandate to arrest suspected shoplifters. However, they are allowed to do certain things if they suspect a person of shoplifting. These are:
- Asking to inspect a suspect’s bag
- Apply reasonable force while detaining a suspect
- Keep a suspect for a suitable time
- Ask a suspect to remain with them as they wait for the arrival of the police
When you get detained by this officer, you do not have to say anything because it will be used against you if you go to trial. Instead, wait until you can speak to your lawyer to talk.
The Effects of Proposition 47 on Shoplifting Offense
The state of California passed proposition 47 in 2014. This program was passed to help reduce penalties for some offenses. Shoplifting violations, as found under PEN 459.5, are included in this provision. Before the passing of Prop 47, a person caught shoplifting gets prosecuted on burglary charges. Burglary charges in California can carry either misdemeanors or felony penalties.
According to Prop 47, there are provisions for individuals that were:
- Convicted of burglary before the current law but
- Committed the offense of shoplifting
This provision allows for individuals previously convicted under burglary to apply to get re-sentenced. When the court approves their application, they will get a reduction of their charges from those of felony burglary to shoplifting misdemeanors.
Related Offenses to Shoplifting
A related offense means that a person charged with shoplifting can get other charges similar to the crime charged alongside the shoplifting offense or instead of it. A shoplifting offense is related to three offenses in California, as discussed below:
PEN 459 – Burglary
Burglary, as a crime, is defined under PEN 459 in California. The crime is said to happen when an individual enters a room, structure, or a secured vehicle intending to steal or commit any felony once inside. The law considers the offense completed when the individual enters the structure or car intending to steal or carry out a felony. The law does not require the person to have completed the act. But as long as the intent was there, the offense is completed.
Burglary in California is divided into a first and second-degree burglary. A person accused of a first-degree burglary means that they entered a residential place to commit the offense. A second-degree burglary, on the other hand, happens when an individual enters any other structure such as a store intending to steal.
Burglary is different from shoplifting in various aspects. A shoplifter must have entered the business premises intending to steal during typical business hours. A person accused of burglary, however, would enter the same store when there are no people or outside standard business hours to steal as well. Some behaviors that can result in a person getting charged with burglary include:
- Breaking into another person’s house to take jewelry, while they are away
- Entering a lady’s apartment intending to rape her and
- Walking into a bank to commit check fraud when there.
Penalties for Burglary
The penalties for this offense depend on the degree you are convicted on. If charged with first-degree burglary, you will face felony prosecution. A felony conviction, in this case, will see the defendant face two or four or six years of state imprisonment.
A second-degree burglary charge is a wobbler. This means the defendant can be charged with either a misdemeanor or felony offense. A felony conviction, in this case, will have the defendant face sixteen or twenty-four or thirty-six months of state imprisonment. A misdemeanor, on the other hand, carries more lenient penalties that include county jail imprisonment of not more than a year.
Legal Defenses for Burglary
When faced with these allegations, finding a criminal attorney to fight the claims against you is essential. Some of the defenses against this offense would be:
- The defendant at the time of entering the structure had no intention of committing the crime
- The items you wanted to steal or stole were yours, and you believed that you had a legal right over them
- You are not the one that committed the burglary, that you are a victim of mistaken identity
PEN 484 – Petty Theft
Charges on petty theft are also closely related to those of shoplifting. A person will get charged with the offense when:
- They steal items or services belonging to another person and
- The value of the services or items is $950 or below
Petty theft, although related to shoplifting, is different. The distinction lies in the fact that:
- Shoplifting is when an individual steals from an open running business while
- Petty theft is when a person steals from another environment or situation
For instance, if you stole a shovel from your neighbor’s garden, you will get charged with petty theft because you took it not from an open store or business. If you stole a scarf from a store, you get accused of shoplifting but not petty theft.
Petty theft charges are prosecuted as misdemeanors. A conviction, in this case, will cause a defendant to serve a county jail sentence of not more than six months or a fine not exceeding $1,000.
PEN 487 – Grand Theft
Grand theft is another crime closely related to shoplifting. When you unlawfully take something belonging to another person that is valued for more than $950, you are guilty of grand theft. When you are convicted for grand theft, the repercussions can be far-reaching. Unfortunately, even when it is your first offense, you will be charged with this offense when the value of the stolen service or item is over $950.
Shoplifting, on the other hand, is charged when a person takes an item whose value is $950 or less. However, a person caught shoplifting will be charged with grand theft if the item they took was over $950.
For instance, a person can get charged with grand theft when they:
- Enter a store and shoplift a dress whose price tag is $980
- Embezzle or steal from their employer’s thousands of dollars
- Break into a premise and illegally obtain goods worth thousands of dollars
Most individuals that are found shoplifting in high-end stores end up being charged with grand theft. The primary reason for these charges is because the value of the item taken is often over $950.
Penalties for Grand Theft Charges
Grand theft charges are prosecuted as either misdemeanors or felony offenses. The prosecutor, when deciding how to pursue, looks at the value of the items stolen. The circumstances of the offense and the criminal background of the defendant also get considered.
A misdemeanor conviction will see the defendant face a county jail sentence not exceeding a year. A felony conviction, however, carries steeper penalties. A defendant will face sixteen or twenty-four or thirty-six months of state imprisonment.
Find a Criminal Lawyer Near Me
Although many people take a shoplifting offense as a minor one, the consequences when one gets convicted are not trivial. The possible penalties and the potential repercussions on your career or life cannot be taken lightly. Fighting against a conviction on these charges is crucial for any accused person. An experienced criminal lawyer will help you avoid a conviction or get you to face lesser penalties. We at The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm have a team of lawyers who are passionate about defending their clients against criminal charges. Call our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer at 310-935-1675 and let us defend you against these allegations.