California defines shoplifting as entering a commercial establishment during its business hours with the intent to steal products valued at a total of $950 or less. It is generally classified as a misdemeanor and so is less serious than a felony crime.

To be charged with shoplifting, it is not a prerequisite to actually leave the store with stolen goods. Rather, a prosecutor must prove that the defendant had the intent to do so. This means you can be charged with shoplifting if you are apprehended while still in the store.

Is Shoplifting a Felony or a Misdemeanor?

While shoplifting does usually fall into the misdemeanor category, there are factors that can bump it up to a felony charge. Certain prior convictions can mean you can be charged with felony shoplifting. These include, but are not limited to, murder, gross vehicular manslaughter, anything that requires you to register as a sex offender, or any felony that is punishable by life in prison.

Recently, a new law was signed in California that makes shoplifting a felony (even if the amount stolen was below the $950 limit) if the theft was orchestrated by an organized crime ring with the intent to sell the stolen goods.

What Are the Penalties for Shoplifting?

The penalties for misdemeanor shoplifting are up to six months in county jail (not state prison) and/or a fine of up to $1,000. While those who have already been charged with shoplifting in the past are more likely to be sentenced on the higher end of the penalty range, first-time offenders may be eligible to get their charges dismissed after completing court orders, such as doing community service hours or taking an anti-theft class.

For felony shoplifting, even a first shoplifting offense can carry a sentence of up to three years in state prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000. A felony conviction will also add a strike to your record under California’s” three-strike” system, where if you receive three strikes, you must serve a minimum of twenty-five years in state prison.

What Defense Can You Use Against a Shoplifting Charge?

A common defense against shoplifting is asserting that you did not enter the store with the intent to steal but rather entered without that intent and then decided in the store to steal something. If a prosecutor cannot prove intent, you may avoid conviction.

There are several other defenses, such as saying you took the property by accident. If there were witnesses involved, you may cast doubt on the accuracy of their account. For the legal help you need and to learn more about shoplifting, call an experienced California criminal lawyer at (562) 462-9233