Penal Code 459.5 PC | Shoplifting

Penal Code 459.5 PC | Shoplifting

Shoplifting is a big problem for retail stores. According to the National Retail Federation, shoplifting costs retailers close to $50 billion dollars every year! But not all types of shoplifting are treated equally under California law.

In California, the crime of shoplifting is covered under Penal Code 459.5 PC. This law breaks shoplifting into two categories:

  • Petty theft by shoplifting (misdemeanor)
  • Burglary shoplifting (can be a felony or misdemeanor)

The difference between these two types of shoplifting charges depends on the value of the merchandise taken. Let’s take a closer look at what defines each charge.

Petty Theft Shoplifting

According to Penal Code 459.5, petty theft by shoplifting involves stealing property worth $950 or less. Petty theft shoplifting is always a misdemeanor offense. The maximum penalties are:

  • Up to 6 months in county jail
  • A fine of up to $1,000
  • Informal probation

So if you’re caught shoplifting a $15 shirt from Macy’s, you could face misdemeanor petty theft shoplifting charges. The prosecutor might offer a plea deal involving community service, restitution, counseling, etc. But you won’t face felony charges or prison time.

Burglary Shoplifting

Under Penal Code 459.5, burglary shoplifting involves stealing merchandise worth more than $950. Burglary shoplifting can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. The potential penalties depend on:

  • The value of the merchandise
  • Your criminal history

If the merchandise is worth between $950 – $2,500, burglary shoplifting is a wobbler offense. The prosecutor can choose to charge it as either a misdemeanor or felony. If convicted as a misdemeanor, you face:

  • Up to 1 year in county jail
  • A fine up to $1,000
  • Informal probation

But if the prosecutor charges burglary shoplifting as a felony, you face:

  • 16 months, 2 years or 3 years in county jail or state prison
  • Up to $10,000 in fines
  • Formal probation

If the merchandise is worth more than $2,500, burglary shoplifting is a straight felony. The potential penalties are:

  • 16 months, 2 years or 3 years in county jail or state prison
  • Up to $10,000 in fines
  • Formal probation

So if you’re caught shoplifting a $1,000 watch, you could face misdemeanor or felony charges. And if you have prior theft convictions, the prosecutor will be more likely to charge it as a felony.

Defenses Against Shoplifting Charges

Just because you’re accused of shoplifting does’nt mean your guilty. There are several legal defenses that could get the charges reduced or dismissed. Some common defenses include:

  • You didn’t intend to steal – For example, you forgot an item was in your cart or pocket by accident.
  • False accusations – The store falsely accuses you of shoplifting.
  • Mistaken identity – The store accuses the wrong person.
  • Entrapment – The store security encouraged you to shoplift.

An experienced California criminal defense lawyer can evaluate the evidence and determine if any defenses apply to your case.

Related Offenses

In addition to shoplifting, California law covers several other theft-related crimes:

The prosecutor often has discretion in choosing which theft charges to file based on the circumstances.

Penalties for Shoplifting with Prior Convictions

Under California’s “Three Strikes” law, if you have 2 or more prior serious or violent felony convictions, any additional felony can count as a third strike. This means you could face a mandatory state prison sentence of 25 years to life.

Even if you don’t have strikes on your record, prior theft convictions will increase the penalties if your convicted again. For example, a second petty theft conviction within 3 years becomes punishable as a misdemeanor by up to 1 year in jail. And a second shoplifting offense within 5 years may be charged as a felony.

Getting Legal Help

Don’t try to navigate shoplifting charges on your own. An experienced California criminal defense attorney can often negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce the charges or penalties. For example, getting misdemeanor petty theft rather than felony burglary. Or getting formal probation instead of jail time.

Having a skilled lawyer in your corner can make all the difference. Many offer free consultations to discuss your case. Don’t hesitate to contact a criminal defense lawyer for help fighting your shoplifting charges.