Review of PC 459.5 Shoplifting Laws and Defenses
California Penal Code 459.5 describes the crime of shoplifting as entering an open business during their normal hours with intent to steal merchandise valued at $950 or less.
PC 459.5 shoplifting is always a misdemeanor crime and punishable by up to six months in a county jail and fine up to $1,000, unless the defendant has one of more prior convictions.
Shoplifting is commonly thought of as stealing an item from a store without paying for it. Generally, this definition rings true for most shoplifting statutes across the country.
A classic and common example of a shoplifting occurs in a situation where someone enters a store the mall with intent to steal some clothes.
Further, it includes somebody entering a convenience store with intent to steal some beer. Notice the crucial word of “intent” to shoplift which will be discussed further below.
If you were arrested or cited by police for shoplifting, you will normally receive a civil demand letter stating you have to pay restitution or you will be sued.
For a more detailed information, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are reviewing the law below.
What is Shoplifting in California?
In California, shoplifting is defined under Penal Code 459.5 PC, which states the following:
- “Shoplifting is defined as entering a commercial establishment with an intent to commit larceny while it's open during regular business hours and the value of the property taken, or intended to be taken, is $950 or less. Any other entry into a commercial business with intent to commit larceny is burglary.”
Thus, based on this definition of PC 459.5 shoplifting, an individual is guilty of shoplifting if it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt they:
- entered a business open to the public,
- during normal business hours, and
- with the intent to steal something worth $950 or less
If these elements of the crime are all proven by a prosecutor, an individual can be convicted of shoplifting.
It is important to note that the individual accused of shoplifting doesn't even have to make it out of the store with the merchandise to be guilty.
The prosecutor's main point will look to prove in a shoplifting case is the accused's criminal intent.
But, how can a prosecutor prove what you were thinking when you entered the store?
If an accused's actions within the store make it appear that they are attempting to steal an item, then that evidence can be used to prove an intent to steal.
What Are the Penalties for PC 459.5 Shoplifting?
Shoplifting in California is normally a misdemeanor offense that carries a maximum potential penalty of:
- up to six months in the county jail, and
- a fine of up to $1,000.
If someone is accused of stealing or attempting to steal items valued at more than $950, then that individual can be charged with Penal Code 487 PC grand theft.
Grand theft can be charged as a felony that carries up to three years in state prison.
There are situations where a defendant can face felony charges punishable by up to 3 years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
Felony penalties apply if defendant has a prior conviction for any of the following crimes:
- a sex crime that requires registration as a sex offender,
- any sex crime on a minor under 14 years old,
- any sex crime committed by using force, violence, or threats,
- gross vehicular manslaughter under Penal Code 191.5 PC,
- murder, attempted murder, or solicitation under Penal Code 187 PC,
- any serious or violent felony punishable by life in prison or death
Civil demand letter
Business owners that shoplifters victimize will also often make civil demands under California Penal Code 490.5 PC.
A civil demand requires the shoplifter to pay restitution to repay the business owner for the items stolen or damaged by the alleged shoplifter.
These letters are sent by law firms representing the business owners and can demand up to $500 to recover costs incurred by the alleged shoplifting.
Before Proposition 47 was passed in 2014, you could face Penal Code 459 burglary charges with felony penalties, but now you must be charged with misdemeanor PC 459.5 shoplifting.
Anyone convicted of burglary prior to the new who actually committed shoplifting, are eligible to apply for resentencing
What Are Some Defenses to Shoplifting?
The crime of shoplifting requires a specific criminal intent to steal the items from a store prior to entry.
Thus, perhaps we can make an argument you developed the intent to steal after you entered the business.
While this defense still can result in a conviction for petty theft, it may help avoid a conviction of shoplifting in certain cases.
If an individual forgot to pay for an item or was planning to pay for an item they were carrying in a bag or pocket while inside the store, then a mistake defense can be raised.
Prosecutors will look to every fact and circumstance in a shoplifting case to prove an individual's criminal intent as it is often the key element that needs to be proven in a shoplifting case.
While not technically defenses, there are other ways that you may be able to resolve your shoplifting case without ending up with a criminal conviction. These methods include:
- Diversion program: if accepted into a diversion program, you will have to agree to abide by a number of conditions set by the court, such as community service or restitution. If you complete these conditions successfully, your case will be dismissed, and you will not end up with a criminal record.
- Civil compromise: this is an agreement between a shoplifter and the business where the items were alleged to have been stolen. In a civil compromise, the shoplifter agrees to repay the costs incurred because of the theft or attempted theft, and the business agrees not to prosecute the shoplifter.
Further, through prefiling intervention, we might be able to negotiate with the prosecutor to avoid filing criminal charges before court.
If you have questions about a criminal case, then it is important that you speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Eisner Gorin LLP has two office locations in Los Angeles County and can be reached for a consultation by calling (310) 328-3776.