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San Diego Shoplifting Attorney

Under California Penal Code 459.5, "entering  a commercial establishment with intent to commit larceny while that establishment is open during regular business hours, where the value of the property that is taken or intended to be taken does not exceed nine hundred fifty dollars ($950). Any other entry into a commercial establishment with intent to commit larceny is burglary." The Penal Code established this offense, if someone steal or commit a theft inside a commercial business, he/she is going to be charged of shoplifting.

Therefore, if someone enters a store and commits a theft inside the establishment, this person could face a shoplifting punishment . Usually the most common examples are: a teenager that goes to a liquor store and take away two bottles of the most expensive vodka. Or a man who enters a supermarket to steal food. A woman entered into a department store to steal a beautiful purse.

Furthermore, shoftlifting is a specific crime in California, meaning that, the crime does not need to be complete for someone being convicted of this offense, so long as the defendant had intention and took steps to commit the crime, even the slightest movement is considered an intention to steal.

Example: A person goes to a store and placed a snow gloves hide it under his jacket.  The defendant does not need to exit the commercial establishment in order to commit the crime, just taking the property or attempt to is enough to satisfy the crime.

Example 2:  Marie goes to a store and tried to steal the snow gloves, however after being apprehended, she tried to pay for the item.  This conduct of trying to pay for the property, it is not sufficient to defeat the charge of this offense.

Example 3: Robert goes to a supermarket and alter the price of the rice and put a different tag more cheaper. These conduct could lead someone of a shoplifting conviction.  In this scenario, Robert had intent to take money from the supermarketing, by paying less for the product than the original tag.

In order for someone being convicted of shoplifting, the prosecution must prove into Court the following elements and facts of the crime that was committed:

  • The defendant entered a commercial establishment during the business hours.
  • With intention to commit a theft and the property taken does not exceed $950.

For a better understanding let's explain with details the facts that the prosecution must prove to get a conviction.

Enter a commercial establishment during business hours.

As stated above, in order for a person be convicted of this charge, the defendant must had entered a establishment during the business hours. Under the Penal Code 459, the concept of entering into a structure means, if a part of a person's body or object that he/she obtains penetrates into the space inside the commercial establishment, it is going to be enough to qualify the crime. For instance, for someone being charged of this offense, the defendant does not need to have the body inside the store, if the defendant committed the crime just grabbing the property from outside with his arms, it could be enough to satisfy the element of this crime.

However, if the defendant entered a commercial establishment with intention to commit a crime after the business hours, the crime should be charge as a burglary, not as a shoplifting. 

Example:  Karen went to a department store planning to steal a earphone valuable at $300,  she entered the store but she looked nervous when she reached the earphone area.

The security guard, Allan,  saw that she looked nervous and thought that she was acting suspicious. Allan catched Karen hiding the earphone into her bag.

In this case, Karen could be charged and convicted of shoplifting under California rules, since prior to enter the department store she had intention to steal the product.

Intention to commit a theft and the property taken does not exceed $950.

As explained shoplifting is a specific crime in California, a person only could be convicted of this offense if she/he intended to commit a theft or felony at the time the defendant entered the commercial establishment. If the person had no such intent to commit a crime prior entering in the store, it is likely that someone could not face a conviction. Furthermore, if after entering the commercial business the person former the intent to commit the crime, this person also could not be convicted of shoplifting. 

As a practical matter, it is difficult  to prove the element of intention under shoplifting, since the defendant must have intention to commit a theft prior to enter the store. And for this reason, it is difficult for the prosecution to show deliberation of the crime.          

Further, the conduct of the defendant is just going to constitute shoplifting if she/he had intention to commit theft of a property that is worth less than $950.  If you entered a commercial establishment without an intention to steal anything, and while you were inside the store you steal a product, you could not be guilty of shoplifting. 

Theft and Shoplifting are different crimes, it could confusing, since some people that commit shoplifting are charged as petty theft. However, petty theft focusing in the actual taking of the property of another, whereas shoplifting focuses on the act of enter a store with intention to steal a product.  Furthermore, that someone just could be charged only with one crime, either theft or shoplifting, not with both, since the penalties are the same for both crimes.

In the case,  the property taken is worth more than $950, the crime will be aggravate to grand theft, in which the punishment is more severe than a actually petty theft.


Usually, for the most cases regarding shoplifting, the defendant is going to face a misdemeanor punishment by a imprisonment not exceeding one (1) year in county jail, or a fine of not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or both imprisonment and fine. However, under the California Penal Code 459.5, some defendants might face  a more severe punishment by felony penalties, if the defendant have a prior conviction of the following offense: sexual violence offense under California Law, sex crime against a child, murder or attempted to murder, manslaughter, solicitation of murder, assault on a peace officer or any serious or violent felony that is punishable by life in prison or death.

Thus, if the defendant have a prior felony conviction and committed a shoplifting, the punishment is going to be by felony probation, or imprisonment in a county jail of  sixteen (16) months, two (2) years or three (3) years; and/or a fine of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or both imprisonment and fine.          

Legal defense

Under California Penal Code, shoplifting is often filed against the defendant that has no criminal background, if a person is convicted with this type of crime, the crime is going to be on the person's criminal records. If you are looking for a job and the employer does a criminal background check and there is misdemeanor register, it is likely that the employer won't hire someone with a misdemeanor background.  If you have been charged with this type of crime, you should promptly look for a Lawyer. San Diego Criminal Attorney has a great deal of success defending our clients and we can help you build legal defenses that it could be used to contest these types of charges. If you would like more information, please contact our successful staff to help you with your legal problems. 

To contest the charges of shoplifting, San Diego Criminal Attorney would be able to use the following legal defenses, if that is the case:

  • Lack of intent to commit the crime.

The main requirement of this crime is intention to commit a theft in a commercial establishment. However, if a person entered a store without a prior intent to steal a product and while inside the department the person decided to take away a nice product without pay, this person could not face a shoplifting charges, since the statute is clear that you can only be convicted of shoplifting is if you intended to do so in advance.

  • Mistake of fact.

A person could face a shoplifting charges for the wrong reasons, sometimes the security guard mistakenly thought that had saw the defendant stealing the property, but actually, the product was her own personal property.   If that is the case, San Diego Criminal Attorney could build a strong defense to dismiss your charges.

  • Wrongfully accused.

Under the rules of Californa Law, it is too easy for a victim falsely accuse another of committing this crime, sometimes the cause of action is out of anger, revenge or jealousy. However, San Diego Criminal Attorney knows how to protect its clients from wrongfully accusations.  One of the best defense of shoplifting is demonstrate that you did not commit the crime. Sometimes, it is common that innocent people could get arrested by mistake.  Showing that you were falsely accused it could the best defense to dismiss the case. If this is your case, contact an attorney promptly.