The Legal Consequences of Shoplifting in California

Understanding the legal consequences and defense options associated with shoplifting charges is paramount. A conviction for shoplifting can lead to severe penalties, including fines, probation, community service, and even jail time, depending on the circumstances. Moreover, a criminal record resulting from a shoplifting conviction can have long-lasting implications, affecting one's reputation, employment opportunities, and personal relationships. Therefore, individuals accused of shoplifting must be fully aware of their rights and legal options to mount a strong defense and mitigate the potential fallout.

Having competent legal representation is essential in navigating the complexities of shoplifting charges. Criminal defense attorneys can provide invaluable guidance and support in developing effective strategies tailored to the specific circumstances of each case. From challenging the evidence presented by the prosecution to negotiating favorable plea deals or pursuing alternative resolutions, experienced legal professionals can help individuals facing shoplifting charges navigate the legal process confidently and advocate for their best interests.

At Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, we understand the seriousness of shoplifting allegations and provide dedicated legal representation to individuals in Los Angeles and beyond. Please contact us at (800) 462-7160 to schedule a consultation and explore your legal options.

The Law on Shoplifting

California Penal Code § 459.5(a) is the statute concerning shoplifting.

The elements of this offense include the following:

  • Entry with intent: Simply being in a store isn't enough for a shoplifting charge; the individual must have the intent to steal.
  • Property value: The stolen property must be worth $950 or less to qualify as shoplifting.
  • Business hours: The alleged act must occur while the establishment is open to the public.

Acts falling outside these legal parameters are considered burglary, a more severe offense. Notably, a person accused of shoplifting cannot simultaneously face burglary charges for the same item.

Common scenarios leading to shoplifting accusations vary but often include the following:

  • Concealing merchandise in clothing or bags
  • Swapping price tags to pay a lower price
  • Attempting to leave a store without paying for items

Other scenarios may involve using counterfeit coupons or exploiting vulnerabilities in self-checkout systems. Shoplifting accusations can also stem from misunderstandings or mistakes, such as unintentionally leaving a store with unpaid items.

The Potential Consequences of Shoplifting

Shoplifting in California typically constitutes a misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000 for a first violation.

However, individuals with prior convictions for serious felonies may face more severe penalties, including imprisonment ranging from 16 months to three years and/or fines of up to $10,000.

The repercussions of a shoplifting conviction extend beyond immediate legal penalties and can significantly impact various aspects of an individual's life, including employment and future opportunities. A shoplifting conviction can tarnish one's reputation and credibility, potentially leading to difficulties securing employment or advancing one's career. Additionally, certain professions or industries may have strict policies regarding criminal convictions, further limiting opportunities for those with shoplifting convictions on their record.

In addition to criminal penalties, individuals accused of shoplifting may face civil liability and restitution obligations. Merchants have the right to pursue civil action against shoplifters to recover damages, including the value of stolen merchandise and any associated losses. This action may involve the merchant issuing a civil demand for payment to cover the cost of the stolen goods. Failing to address civil liabilities and restitution obligations can lead to further legal consequences and financial burdens.

Developing Effective Defense Strategies

Individuals accused of shoplifting are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and the burden of proof lies with the prosecution to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Leveraging the presumption of innocence is crucial in building a solid defense and challenging the prosecution's case.

Several defenses against shoplifting allegations individuals can explore with the assistance of legal counsel include the following:

  • Lack of intent to commit theft
  • Mistaken identity
  • Insufficient evidence
  • Mistake of fact

Experienced criminal defense attorneys can provide invaluable guidance and advocacy throughout the legal process, from investigating the circumstances surrounding the allegations to negotiating with prosecutors and presenting compelling defenses in court.

Seeking Legal Assistance Is Imperative

By consulting with experienced criminal defense attorneys, individuals can receive personalized guidance and support tailored to their circumstances. Legal representation can significantly affect the outcome of shoplifting cases, whether their role involves challenging the evidence presented by the prosecution, exploring potential defenses, or negotiating with prosecutors for alternative resolutions.

At Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, we advocate for our clients’ rights in Los Angeles. Call (800) 462-7160 or submit an online contact form today.