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Criminal Defense Information for Shoplifting (Cal. Penal Code s. 490.5)

  1. What is Shoplifting?
  2. What are the necessary elements to be found guilty of Shoplifting?
  3. What is the sentence / punishment for Shoplifting?
  4. What are possible defenses to charges of Shoplifting?
  1. What is Shoplifting?

    Shoplifting is a type of theft where the merchandise is typically taken from a store or a library. When the theft is of such magnitude that it amounts to grand theft, the theft would generally not be referred to as "shoplifting" anymore. In other words, "shoplifting" is typically used to refer to petty theft from a store or library. Cal. Pen. Code s. 490.5 Opens in New Window.

  2. What are the necessary elements to be found guilty of Shoplifting?

    Since Shoplifting is a form of petty theft, the elements are the same as for petty theft with the addition of the requirement that the theft be from a store or library.

    To prove the defendant Shoplifted, the state must show that the defendant:

    1. Took something from a store or library and;
    2. Intended to deprive the owner of the property.

    Cal. Pen. Code s. 484 and 490.5 Opens in New Window.

  3. What is the sentence / punishment for Shoplifting?

    A first conviction of petty theft from a store or library comes with a mandatory fine of between $50 and $1,000 for each violation and may also result in up to six months in jail. Cal. Pen. Code s. 490.5 (a) Opens in New Window.

    All convictions also carry with them damages of not less than $50 nor more than $500, plus costs. Additionally, the defendant must pay the merchant or library the retail price of the merchandise taken. Cal. Pen. Code s. 490.5 (c) Opens in New Window.

    Subsequent convictions carry the fines and possible jail time and increase the chances that the defendant will be charged with felony Petty Theft rather than misdemeanor Petty Theft or simple shoplifting. Cal. Pen. Code s. 666 Opens in New Window.

  4. What are possible defenses to charges of Shoplifting?

    To prove someone committed a crime, the state (through its prosecutors) must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed each element of the crime. Therefore, defenses to any crime start with negating one or more of the elements of the crime. Additionally, some crimes allow for “affirmative” defenses which, if the defendant can prove the defense applies, will result in a verdict of “not guilty” even if the prosecutor proves the defendant met each of the elements of the crime.

    If the prosecutor can prove all the elements of Shoplifting, however, the defendant must prove that one or more justifications for his actions existed (i.e., it is the defendant’s burden to prove an affirmative defense). For Shoplifting, some of these justifications include:

    • Permission from the other person (e.g., lending of the property, gift of the property);
    • Alibi;
    • The defendant owned the property;
    • Duress / Threats;
    • Necessity;
    • Accident;
    • Someone framed the defendant;
    • Entrapment; and
    • Statute of Limitations.
See also, Grand Theft, Petty Theft, Robbery.