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Can I Go to Jail for Shoplifting in California?

Shoplifting is a kind of petty theft. It’s a common offense anywhere, but we shouldn’t underestimate its severity. Shoplifting convictions carry heftier penalties than you’d imagine, and this is particularly true for repeat offenders. To avoid criminal charges, you should understand shoplifting penalties in California. This blog will explain the anti-shoplifting laws in California, so please read it thoroughly. And for those who have already been charged with shoplifting, remember that an experienced Tehama County theft lawyer is just a phone call away.

What Is Shoplifting?

When you enter a commercial establishment, intending to steal a certain amount of property, you may have committed shoplifting in California as per Penal Code 495.5. To be specific, before you are declared guilty of shoplifting, the prosecutor needs to prove to the court that you (1) entered a commercial establishment during business hours and (2) with the intent to steal items valued at $950 or less. Your shoplifting charge is considered a misdemeanor unless there are prior convictions on your record.

The most important of this definition is that it doesn’t include whether you actually make it past the door during your theft attempt. So long as the prosecutor can prove that you had the intention of stealing a value of $950 or less, the court should find that you committed shoplifting. Another interesting wrinkle in this definition is that, should you decide to steal something spontaneously, and not since you entered the store, then you haven’t committed shoplifting under California law.

Instead, a spontaneous decision to steal from a commercial establishment you were otherwise visiting for a different purpose may be petty theft. For comparison, the misdemeanor crime of petty theft is stealing property with a value at or below $950, while grand theft is a wobbler, that can become either a misdemeanor or a felony, where you steal a value above $950.

How Is Shoplifting Punished in California?

As we touched on above, shoplifting is typically treated as a misdemeanor. If found guilty, you’ll typically face six months in county jail and possibly a fine of $1,000 or less.

Having prior convictions may result in you encountering much higher penalties. Convictions for the following crimes will increase the penalty for your shoplifting charge:

  • Crimes that required you to register as a sex offender
  • Felonies punished by life in prison or death
  • Murder, attempted murder, or asking someone to murder another (solicitation)
  • Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated
  • Assaulting a police officer or a firefighter with a machine gun
  • Having possession of a weapon of mass destruction.

If any of those are true, you will then be charged with felony shoplifting. Felony shoplifting is punished by formal probation, a jail sentence of up to three years, and/or a fine with a maximum of $10,000.