Pretty much everyone has heard of the crime of shoplifting. The crime is often featured in various television shows, especially when teens are present. Despite how it is often portrayed on the screen, shoplifting can be performed by anyone at any age. The act of shoplifting is a pretty common crime here in California, despite the state’s laws against the act. In fact, many stores in the state have to constantly fight against shoplifters, or risk losing money.
In order to try to help businesses out, the state of California has a law against stealing from businesses.
Penal Code 459.5
In the state of California, Penal Code (PC) 459 is the state’s burglary law. This law makes it illegal to enter any residential or commercial building with the intent of stealing something. Subsection PC 459.5 specifically focuses on the act of entering a commercial building with the intent of stealing something. This is the part that focuses on the crime more commonly known as shoplifting.
According to PC 459.5, shoplifting is defined as entering an open business with the intent to steal less than $950 dollars. Stealing more than $950 dollars is considered burglary.
While this legal definition of shoplifting lines up nicely with most people’s understanding of what the crime is, there is another way a person can be guilty of shoplifting. If a person enters a bank and cashes a fraudulent check, they are guilty of shoplifting, provided the amount of money taken was less than $950. The reason for this is that the person entered a place of business, the bank, and stole the money by means of a fake check.
Penalties of Shoplifting
Before the passing of Proposition 47 in 2014, if a person entered a business and stole any amount of property, regardless of total value, they would be charged with burglary. However, the passing of Prop 47 introduced the subsection PC 459.5 to law.
This new law separated the crime of shoplifting from burglary, thereby reducing the consequences of the crime. Remember, Prop 47 was meant to help reduce prison populations across the state by reducing the consequences for many crimes. This is why shoplifting got a slight separation from the act of burglary.
As it stands, breaking PC 459.5 is a misdemeanor offense. This means that it comes with the following consequences:
- Summary probation.
- Up to 6 months in jail.
- A max fine of $1,000.
However, it is still possible for a person to receive harsher consequences for shoplifting. If a person has certain prior charges on their criminal record, then they can face felony shoplifting charges.
These come with the following consequences:
- Felony probation.
- 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in jail.
- A max fine of $10,000.
The Difference between Shoplifting and Petty Theft
There is one quick, and simple distinction between the crime of shoplifting under PC 459.5 and the crime of petty theft under PC 488. Shoplifting is the act of attempting to steal something from a store. Petty theft is successfully stealing something from anyone, including a store.
In most cases, a person will more often be charged with either petty theft, if they stole less than $950 dollars, or grand theft if they stole more than that amount. California law makes it so that a person cannot be charged with both shoplifting and petty/grand theft. It has to be one or the other for a given instance.
Petty theft carries the same consequences as shoplifting.
Don’t Steal in California
Stealing is never a good idea. The consequences of stealing are always worse than just buying the item in the first place. Fines and court fees can quickly outweigh the cost of legally purchasing an item from the store.