Shoplifting – Charges and Defenses
Being accused of shoplifting can carry significant penalties, both monetary and for your reputation. Learn what to expect if you are charged with this crime and what a California legal defense attorney can do to help you avoid a conviction.
What is Shoplifting?
Shoplifting is clearly defined by California Penal Code 459.5. Outlined by these rules, prosecutors can only show that the defendant is guilty of shoplifting by proving that:
- The defendant first entered some kind of commercial establishment, like a store or restaurant AND
- The defendant entered the commercial establishment during regular business hours (i.e. not when the restaurant or store was closed) AND
- The defendant intended to commit a theft when they entered the establishment
Note that commercial establishments can also include places like theaters, gyms and fitness clubs, and hotels, or motels.
Proving all of these points is more difficult than you might think. That's because the prosecution has to prove things like:
- You actually entered a building's outer boundary
- You intended to commit a theft when you first entered the property
Both of these aspects are hard to prove through circumstantial evidence, especially the latter. Because of these weaknesses, skilled California defense attorneys can help you avoid being convicted of the crime.
What Possible Penalties Exist?
In the vast majority of cases, the crime is charged as a misdemeanor so long as the property stolen is worth $950 or less. For these crimes, potential penalties can extend to include:
- Up to six months in county jail
- A fine of up to $1000
Occasionally, a defendant may be charged with the felony version of shoplifting, particularly if the property allegedly stolen adds up to over $950. Additional penalties, including higher fines and time in state jail instead of county jail, are then on the table.
Thus, it's important to have California defense attorneys on your side if you're ever charged with this crime.
Defenses to Shoplifting
Any California defense attorney worth their salt can present several effective defenses to charges of shoplifting.
Intent to Steal Was Not Present
Because shoplifting requires you to intend to steal property before entering the establishment, you cannot shoplift if you didn't intend to do so. This particular aspect is incredibly hard for the prosecution to prove, making this an effective defense in many cases.
Defendant Didn't Know the Property Was Owned by the Establishment
A defendant must know that the property was owned by another person for it to be considered stealing at all, let alone shoplifting. A defense attorney can help prove that you didn't know who owned the property at the time of its removal.
If there isn't hard video evidence on file, the prosecution will have a hard time proving that you were the one who stole the property they have misplaced. If hard evidence isn't in place, the court may very well likely throw out the charges.
Why You Need a California Criminal Defense Attorney
We know how difficult it can be to take on shoplifting charges by yourself. The Law Office of Peter James Chambers has the legal expertise and drive to help you avoid a conviction and recover from the toll this has undoubtedly taken on your daily life. Please don't hesitate to contact us today for a free consultation.