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What Are the Criminal Penalties for Shoplifting in California?

Posted on in Theft

San Jose criminal defense attorneyAlthough many people may think of shoplifting as a minor offense, it is still considered a theft crime, and the punishments can vary depending on the state. California statute defines theft as the intentional and unlawful taking of property to deprive the rightful owner of that property. According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP), approximately $13 billion worth of goods are stolen from retail stores each year. Furthermore, shoplifting makes up 21.2 percent of larceny theft crimes based on reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Shoplifting can include taking something as small as a candy bar from the local grocery store or an expensive bracelet from a high-end jewelry shop. The penalties for this type of theft vary based on the value of the items that were stolen. Regardless of the reasons for committing this crime, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer to defend such charges and avoid prison time or steep fines. 

Potential Punishments 

According to California law, theft crimes are classified as either “grand” theft or “petty” theft. These offenses may be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony depending on the value of the stolen goods. If someone takes an item that is worth $50 or less and he or she has no prior record, the incident may be considered an infraction with fines up to $250. In other cases, punishments can include community service, time behind bars, fines, or a combination of all. Below are the main categories of theft and their subsequent penalties: 

  • Petty theft: Stolen property is worth less than $950, punishable by up to one year in jail and mandatory fine between $50 and $1,000 
  • Grand theft: Stolen property is worth more than $950 or is a firearm, punishable by one to three years in jail

It is important to note that a person can be charged with shoplifting if he or she is suspected of switching the price tag of an item with one of a lesser value. It can also include taking someone else’s receipt that might have been discarded, locating the item in the store that appeared on the receipt, and returning it for a full refund.

Civil Consequences

In addition to the criminal charges, an adult or minor shoplifter can be held civilly liable to the owner of the merchandise for:

  • Damages of at least $50 but not more than $500
  • The retail value of the merchandise 

California provides diversion programs for certain individuals for first-time offenses as an alternative to prosecution. There are specific requirements that offenders must meet in order to be eligible. These can include community service restitution, or reimbursing the property owner for the amount of the stolen goods. The criminal charges will then be dismissed upon successful completion of the program.

Contact a San Jose, CA Criminal Defense Attorney

Under California law, theft offenses can comprise many different acts. Although you may not consider shoplifting as a very serious crime, it can result in severe consequences depending on the circumstances. At the Law Offices of Erik Steven Johnson, we are committed to providing quality legal representation by building a strong defense for your case. Our seasoned Milpitas retail theft lawyers have more than 10 years of experience successfully defending our clients. Call us today at 408-246-3004 to schedule your free consultation. 



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