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California Shoplifting Laws

With high-end shopping districts in Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and San Francisco, California is home to some of the most expensive retail stores in the U.S. These are tempting targets when it comes to shoplifting. They may have become even more tempting following the passage of Proposition 47 in 2014, as it reduced penalties for many crimes, including shoplifting. While California doesn't have a specific statute for shoplifting, this crime is covered in its general theft statutes, which distinguish between petty theft and grand theft depending on the value of the property involved.

In California, shoplifting constitutes theft when a person feloniously steals, takes, carries away, leads, or drives away the personal property of another. So, where a person's conduct indicates an intent to steal items in a store, such as taking an item and concealing it in one's clothing, this can constitute theft by shoplifting. This would be considered petty theft unless the value of the property is over $950, in which case it would constitute grand theft. The value of stolen items is determined by their reasonable and fair market value, often the amount listed on the price tag.

California Shoplifting Laws At A Glance

For more information on specific shoplifting laws in California, consult the chart below.

Statutes
  • California Penal Code Section 484 (general theft statute)
  • California Penal Code Section 486 (dividing theft into grand theft and petty theft)
  • California Penal Code Section 487 (grand theft)
  • California Penal Code Section 488 (petty theft)
  • California Penal Code Section 489 (punishments for grand theft)
  • California Penal Code Section 490 (punishments for petty theft)
Penalties and Sentencing

Grand Theft: This can be a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in county jail or, if it involves theft of a firearm, then a felony punishable by up to 3 years in state prison.

Petty Theft: This can be a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in county jail and up to $1,000 in fines or, if the value of the property is $50 or less, then an infraction punishable only by a fine of up to $250.

Defenses
  • Age (generally, children under 14 cannot be held criminally liable)
  • Mental incapacity
  • Lack of criminal intent/mistake of fact
  • Duress
  • Justification/necessity
  • Consent of the owner

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Related Resources For California Shoplifting Laws

You can click on the links below to learn more information on related crime laws in California.

Busted for Shoplifting? Get Legal Help Today

The changes to California shoplifting laws in 2014 will definitely be to your benefit if you're facing charges for shoplifting. However, even though many penalties were reduced, they still exist and are often determined by the value of the property involved. This is one fact among others that a prosecutor must establish at trial. However, with the right evidence and the right criminal defense attorney by your side, this issue can be contested, among others, such as your intent at the time.

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