The movie Aladdin produced by Disney in 1992 depicts the titular character stealing food from a street vendor. As a result, Aladdin is chased by police but comes out ahead in the end. Had Aladdin been caught and charged with a crime, it would have been shoplifting. Despite the move to e-commerce, the rate of shoplifting in California has risen in the last few years.

This article will define shoplifting in California and explore the defenses and penalties given under this charge.

shoplifting in california

What does it mean to shoplift under California Penal Code Section 459.5?

Shoplifting requires an individual to enter a commercial business during normal business hours with the intent to remove an item from the business premises without paying for it.

In May 2023, the threshold amount for what is considered to be shoplifting was changed from $500.00 to $950.00 under Senate Bill 551. This means that the worth of the item taken cannot exceed the amount of $950.00 in order to be considered shoplifting. 

For example, if someone were to steal a purse valued at $750.00 from a store during the mid-afternoon when the store was open, this is considered to be shoplifting since the item stolen costs less than $950.00.

What are some of the defenses a person can make in court when accused of shoplifting?

There are a few defenses a person can make if they were caught shoplifting.

  1. Let’s say a woman had been looking at a purse that cost $750.00 when her child ran out of the store. Knowing that her child was fast, the mother accidentally took the purse with her as she ran after her child. Since she did not intend to take the purse out of the store without paying for it, she will most likely not be convicted of shoplifting. This is considered to be a “mistake defense”.
  2. A person who is told that an item was purchased by a friend is then handed the item before leaving the store. The person with the “purchased item” is then told by police that the item in question was stolen, not purchased. A person can say in court that they were not given the correct facts, which is why they accidentally shoplifted.
  3. A teenager shoplifts a pack of gum from a corner store. The shop owner decides not to press charges against the teenager so long as the teenager pays for the pack of gum and agrees to sweep the shop floors for an hour that day. In this situation, the agreement between the teenager and the shop owner precludes the need for a prosecutor to step in because restitution has been made.

What is the difference between larceny and shoplifting?

The difference between these two crimes is the threshold worth of the item stolen. Shoplifting has a threshold worth of $950.00. If the stolen item costs more than that, the crime would be considered larceny, which is treated as a felony.

What is the penalty for shoplifting?

Shoplifting is considered to be a misdemeanor. Therefore, the penalty is a fine, community service, and/or jail time in a county jail. Shoplifting is considered to be a crime in and of itself. A person who is convicted of shoplifting cannot be charged with theft or burglary for stealing the item. However, if a person who shoplifts has committed other crimes in the past, the penalty for the shoplifting may increase.

If a person were to steal an item worth more than $950.00, the crime would be considered grand theft, which is a felony. The penalty is a fine of up to $10,000.00 and a sentence of up to three years in jail. 

In addition, a store may send a Civil Demand Letter which requests that the shoplifter pay restitution to cover the cost of the items stolen and/or any damages they incurred. This is done outside of the criminal court system.

Charged with shoplifting?

Shoplifting, no matter the worth of the item, is a crime. If you or someone you know was charged with shoplifting, reach out to The Law Office of David L. Faulkner. Our competent lawyers will take care of everything without involving you in the stress involved in court proceedings. In addition, our lawyers will be glad to keep you informed throughout your cases to ensure that everything runs smoothly. Contact us today for an in-depth case evaluation and a free consultation.

Share this post

Schedule a Free Consultation

Contact Form

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.