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What is Shoplifting?

For purposes of this website, the California Penal Code breaks all crimes into 7 categories: (1) Crimes Against Public Justice, (2) Crimes Against the Person, (3) Crimes Against the Person Involving Sexual Assault and Crimes Against Public Decency and Good Morals, (4) Crimes Against Public Health and Safety, (5) and Crimes Against Property. Embezzlement falls in the category of Property, and is one (1) of (7) Crimes Against Property that is covered on this website. Those crimes include: (1) Petty Theft, (2) Grand Theft, (3) Shoplifting, (4) Burglary, (5) Robbery, (6) Embezzlement; and (7) Receiving stolen property. Many of the Crimes Against Property have substantial similarities. In a nutshell, the various “Crimes Against Property” require “the intent to permanently deprive the true owner of their property.” The various crimes differ generally in the sense of the value of the property that was taken, and how the property was taken. The value of the property will determine whether or not the crime is charged as a petty theft, or as a grand theft, which in turn determines the penalties the Defendant may face. The manner in which the Defendant took the property will determine the crime, which will also affect the penalties the Defendant may face. If you are accused of a Crime Against Property it is essential that you obtain competent legal counsel promptly.

If you or a loved one has been arrested for shoplifting, it is critical that you contact Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer immediately. Crimes Against Property are known as “crimes of moral turpitude”, which can have a significant impact on your life if you are convicted. Having a skilled attorney on your side can help mitigate the impact of a conviction in the unfortunate even that you are found guilty. Additionally, theft crimes have a number of elements the Prosecution must prove, giving your LACL attorney ample opportunities to defeat the Prosecution’s case against you. Finally, theft crimes are “specific intent crimes”, which will provide your LACL attorney with a number of potential defenses they can raise.

There are a number of significant benefits to contacting Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer immediately after you have been arrested. The moment you are arrested, and often times before that, law enforcement agencies are attempting to gather evidence, which they will present at trial in order to obtain a conviction. Having a LACL attorney on your side will ensure that procedural requirements are met; if those requirements are not met, your attorney can fight to have that evidence excluded from trial. In many situations, the exclusion of critical evidence from trial will lead to a dismissal of all charges against you.

Another benefit is that by having a free initial consultation with Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer immediately after your arrest, you will be able to provide your attorney with all the information relating to and leading up to your arrest while it is still fresh in your memory. It is important for your attorney to have every piece of information, no matter how trivial; many defense theories turn on the minute details of the incident itself. As mentioned above, theft crimes have a substantial number of elements the Prosecution must prove in order to obtain a conviction. The more information your attorney is armed with, the better the outcome of your case will be.

Once your LACL attorney has gathered all the information, while it is still fresh in your mind, they will tailor a defense theory that is unique to you and your case. Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer finds the concept of boilerplate defenses to be both ineffective and unethical. Once your attorney has handcrafted a defense to your case, they will meet with the District Attorney who has been assigned your case. At this meeting, your LACL attorney will present the basics of your case the District Attorney and attempt to persuade them to either dismiss the case against you, or reduce the charges against you.

In some situations, the District Attorney believes their case is too strong to reduce the charges or dismiss the case against you. Your case will then proceed to the jury trial phase of the process. A Defendant who contacts their attorney immediately after they have been arrested has also given that attorney ample time to perfect their theory of defense, as opposed to building it a few days before trial; this means your attorney has had time to explore every angle of the defense they have created for you. The attorneys at Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer have decades of combined experience representing clients accused of criminal conduct in the courtroom, and have perfected the art of litigating in front of a jury. Combining LACL’s unparalleled skill in the courtroom with extensive preparation, your LACL attorney will provide the very best representation available in your criminal jury trial. In order to protect a Defendant who is facing criminal charges, it is essential to have an understanding of the elements of the crime the Defendant is being charged with.

Pursuant to California Penal Code §459.5, the crime of shoplifting occurs when an individual goes into a commercial building with the purpose of committing a larceny inside that commercial location, during normal business hours. An additional requirement for a conviction of larceny under California Penal Code §459.5 is that the property the Defendant intends to steal when he enters the commercial building be valued at less than $950. Any entrance into a commercial location for the purpose of committing larceny will be charged as a burglary, as opposed to shoplifting. The California Penal Code establishes the offense as entering a store with the present purpose of committing the crime of theft inside the store as being the crime of shoplifting.

Based on the definition of shoplifting set forth in California Penal Code §459.5, if a person enters a store, a proceeds to satisfy the elements of theft while inside the store that individual may face charges of shoplifting. There are many common sense scenarios where these elements are satisfied, but a few examples are in order. Jake walks into the local Ralphs supermarket with the intent of stealing three bottles of Knob Creek, a delicious alcoholic beverage. Once he has completed the theft, Jake will be guilty of shoplifting. Alternatively, a mother of two, who has no money to her name, enters the local grocery store for the purpose of stealing food for her children, when she completes the theft she could be convicted of shoplifting.

Additionally, California defines the crime of shoplifting as a specific intent crime, this means that the theft does not need to be completed per se, and technically speaking the crime of shoplifting is complete the moment an individual enters a store with the intent to commit a theft inside.

Example 2: Clark goes to a local REI store with the intent of stealing new hiking boots. While inside, Clark notices he is being followed by the store’s security officer, and leaves without purchasing anything. Clark could still be convicted of shoplifting simply because he entered the store during regular business hours with the specific intent to steal hiking boots.

Example 3:

Tom enters a jewelry store with the intent of stealing a watch. Tom walks around casing the area, and taking note of which employees seem inattentive or otherwise occupied. When the time is right, Tom swipes the first watch he can, and leaves the store. It turns out that the watch was worth $1,500. Tom is not guilty of shoplifting, but he can face charges of burglary.

To be convicted under §459.5 in California, the Prosecution must prove the following two elements, beyond a reasonable doubt, to the jury:

You entered a commercial location during the course of ordinary business hours; andYou intended to commit theft of an item that is valued at less than $950.

Since the Prosecution has to prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt, it is important to have a comprehensive understanding of each of the elements. The attorneys at Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer have ample experience representing criminal defendants against a wide range of criminal charges. This includes criminal charges for shoplifting. Using their understanding of the law and the legal process, your LACL attorney will fight to obtain a positive outcome to your case.

Enter a commercial establishment during business hours.

As clarified above, in order to be convicted on a shoplifting charge the Defendant must have entered a commercial location, during the course of regular business hours. California law defines the act of “entering” as any portion of an individual’s body crossing the threshold into the establishment. As an example, it would be enough to maintain a conviction for shoplifting if an individual walked by an open window of a store, and reached in with the intent to grab something worth less than $950. Any portion of a person’s body that enters a commercial location, paired with a present intent to commit theft will satisfy the elements of shoplifting.

It should be noted that if an individual enters a commercial establishment after business hours, the crime is a burglary, not shoplifting.

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

As noted above, the crime detailed in California Penal Code §459.5 is a specific intent crime in California. This means that in order to be convicted of shoplifting, the Defendant must have had the specific intent to commit a theft inside the store at the time they actually entered the store. If the Defendant had no intention of committing a theft inside the store when they entered, it is unlikely that a conviction will stand against that person. If an individual entered a store, and mulled around for several minutes until he saw an item he just needed to have, then decided to steal that item, that person cannot be convicted of shoplifting because the intent was not present at the time he entered the store.

As a practical consideration, it is very difficult for the Prosecution to prove that the Defendant actually had the specific intent to commit a theft inside the store at the time the Defendant entered. The Prosecutor will present circumstantial evidence in the hopes that they will sway the jury, but a skilled attorney on your side will effectively eviscerate the Prosecution’s case against you if they do not have substantial evidence of your state of mind when you entered the store. The Prosecution will generally introduce video surveillance footage at trial to prove your intent when you entered the store. There are many things that could lead one to the conclusion that the Defendant had the requisite intent at the time they entered the store. For example, he video footage could show the Defendant outside the store tracking the security guard and where he was going, the footage could show that the Defendant entered the store after he saw the security guard go the other way, the footage could also show the Defendant making a bee line to the item he stole. Absent evidence of this nature, it is very difficult to prove the elements of shoplifting beyond a reasonable doubt.

Theft and shoplifting are two distinct crimes. Some people who are guilty of shoplifting are charged with petty theft, this is because an individual, who takes the extra step of actually taking the item they intended to steal, has now committed a theft, which carries stiffer consequences, and is more morally culpable. Furthermore, a Defendant can only be charged with petty theft, or shoplifting, not both.

If the value of the property is more than $950, the crime becomes enhanced to either grand theft, or burglary.

What Are the Penalties I Could Face if I Am Convicted of Shoplifting?

Typically, shoplifting is a misdemeanor offense, which is punishable by up to one year of incarceration, a fine of up to $1,000, or a combination of imprisonment and a fine. However, under the Penal code, the punishment could become more severe as a felony. If the Defendant has a prior conviction, which is specifically set out in the code, the penalties could extend much longer.

As such, if the Defendant has a prior conviction for an enumerated felony, and is convicted of shoplifting, they could face incarceration spanning from sixteen months, to two years, or even three years, and a fine of up to $10,000, or a combination of both

What are the Legal Defenses My LACL Attorney Can Raise if I am Charged With Shoplifting?

In California, the charge that is filed will depend on the person’s criminal background. If you have no criminal background, the Prosecutor will likely bring a misdemeanor shoplifting charge against you. If you do have a prior conviction, the prosecutor might bring the petty theft charge against you. If you are seeking employment, many employers conduct a background check on all potential new hires. If this occurs, they will be aware of your conviction for shoplifting or petty theft. While this crime isn’t looked at with as much negative feeling associated with it, it still involves dishonesty and thievery, which many employers view as a red flag, and typically they will not hire the individual. If you have been accused of shoplifting contact an attorney at Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer immediately. As mentioned above, it is very difficult to prove your intentions at the time you entered the commercial establishment. The Prosecution will have to prove your intent beyond a reasonable doubt either through video footage, or eye witness testimony. Having a killed attorney on your side could very well result in acquittal either by having the surveillance thrown out of evidence, or through cross-examination of the eye witness by your attorney. Ultimately, your LACL attorney can raise several defenses against the charge against you. Some of the arguments your LACL attorney can raise on your behalf include:

  • Lack of intent to commit the crime.
  • Mistake of fact.

Sometimes a person is charged with shoplifting for an inaccurate reason. For example, a security guard at the commercial establishment may mistakenly believe they observed you attempt to steal an item from the store. This could be motivated by many reasons, or it could be entirely innocent. If this is the case, your LACL attorney will meet with the Prosecutor, advocate on your behalf, and seek to have the charges dropped against you.

  • Wrongfully accused.

Under California law, it is far too easy to accuse someone of a crime they did not commit. Sometimes this occurs as a result on envy, jealous, rage, or revenge. If you have been wrongfully accused of shoplifting, your LACL attorney will vigorously advocate your innocence in an effort to have the case against you dismissed.

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