While there are strict laws to curb this form of theft, shoplifting is still a prevalent crime that affects the growth of many businesses here. Depending on the total value of the goods or property in question, a shoplifting charge can make you subject to misdemeanor or felony penalties.
Whether you are a juvenile or an adult, a shoplifting conviction can tarnish your reputation and even affect your ability to secure employment. To protect your freedom which is now at risk, you should seek the services of a defense attorney for legal representation as you go through the criminal justice system to achieve the best possible results from the alleged charge.
Confident and experienced attorneys at Long Beach Criminal Attorney can help you fight this embarrassing and detrimental criminal charge to achieve the best possible result on every step of the prosecution process.
Shoplifting Crime at a Glance
Shoplifting is a common term among many people, but very few people know it is an independent theft crime under the law. According to Penal Code 459.5 PC, you commit the offense of shoplifting when you enter a store or any other commercial establishment during usual business hours with the intent or motive to steal property or goods that are valued or worth $950 or less.
Although a petty theft charge is closely related to a shoplifting charge, they are different crimes under the law. Unlike a petty theft charge, having prior intent or motive to steal property from a particular store once you are inside is the main incriminating factor in a shoplifting charge. That means you don’t have to step out of the store with stolen property to be guilty of a shoplifting crime.
However, it is important to remember that you might face a petty theft charge if somehow you manage to leave the store with the property in question (stolen property). For the sake of PC 459.5, a commercial or business establishment can be any of the following (but not limited to):
- Gyms or fitness clubs
- Retail stores
There is a typical misconception that a shoplifting charge comes with minimal consequences, which makes many defendants plead guilty to this charge without thinking of the possible legal consequences they could face. Although shoplifting is typically a misdemeanor offense, that is untrue because a conviction can affect you financially and professionally.
Contacting a reliable defense attorney is a brilliant idea if you are in police custody for a shoplifting charge to increase your chances of fighting these detrimental criminal allegations.
Resolving a Shoplifting Charge Before Trial
To avoid the uncertainty of a trial hearing and fight the alleged charge without a hassle, your defense attorney will advise you to enter a pretrial diversion program. Pretrial diversion programs will allow you to avoid the complex criminal prosecution process by attending particular rehabilitative and treatment courses or programs.
Typically, you would be eligible to divert your alleged shoplifting charge from the criminal justice system if you are a first-time offender or the property or merchandise in question is of low value. However, you will need your defense attorney in your corner to show the court why you are the right candidate to enter a pretrial diversion program for the alleged shoplifting charge.
Once you choose to participate in the required pretrial diversion program for your alleged criminal charge, you must finish the course and comply with other necessary conditions for dismissal of the charge. Some of the conditions you must comply with include:
- Community service
- Pay restitution to the business owner
Although a pretrial diversion program is not a defense for a shoplifting charge, it is a reliable way to resolve a shoplifting charge without going through the criminal justice system, which may end up with a conviction against you.
When you fail to complete the pretrial diversion program or violate any of its conditions, the court will reinstate the underlying shoplifting charges against you, meaning you should be ready for the normal criminal prosecution process. If you are eligible for pretrial diversion, you should take this offer because you don’t have to plead guilty to the alleged shoplifting charges nowadays.
What to Expect During a Shoplifting Charge Trial
If you are ineligible for a pretrial diversion program, you should be ready to counter the shoplifting allegations at trial. A trial hearing in the criminal justice system is the stage where your defense attorney and the prosecutor present his/her evidence against you to a judge or jury for judgment of the case.
As long as your shoplifting charge is not an infraction, you are eligible for a jury trial. However, you can also choose to waive your legal right for a jury trial if you want a judge to make the final verdict of your alleged shoplifting charge.
During the trial hearing, both the prosecutor and your defense attorney must argue their pieces of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. A shoplifting charge consists of the following elements of crime, and the prosecutor must prove all of them beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a guilty verdict against you:
- You entered a business or commercial establishment
- The business or commercial establishment was open during “normal business hours.”
- You had intentions of stealing merchandise or goods worth $950 or less
The jury or the judge presiding over your case will find shoplifting allegations against you to be true only if the prosecutor can prove the above elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. As mentioned above, you don’t have to leave the establishment with goods or merchandise to be guilty of shoplifting.
During the trial hearing that you may show up or not, you will depend on your defense attorney to raise evidentiary arguments to counter shoplifting charges against you for a desirable verdict or outcome.
Consequences of a Shoplifting Charge Conviction
A shoplifting charge may attract misdemeanor or felony penalties depending on the severity and facts of your alleged case. Below are possible penalties you could face for a shoplifting charge conviction:
Shoplifting As a Misdemeanor
You are guilty of misdemeanor shoplifting if the following facts are true:
- The value or worth of the property or merchandise in question is $950 or less
- You are a first-time offender
- You have no criminal history
If the court treats your case as a misdemeanor, you will be subject to the following possible penalties:
- A maximum jail term of six months
- A fine amounting up to $1,000
- Misdemeanor probation for three years
Shoplifting As a Felony
If you have a prior criminal record or the stolen property is worth more than $950, the shoplifting charge will become a wobbler. That means your alleged shoplifting case can be punishable as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on your unique case facts. A felony conviction for shoplifting will make you subject to the following possible penalties:
- An incarceration term of three years in the state prison
- Felony probation
- A fine amounting up to $10,000
Apart from the above possible penalties, a felony conviction for shoplifting can make you lose some of your civil rights, for example:
- Right to own or possess a firearm
- Right to acquire or hold a professional license, for example, lawyer, doctor, teacher, nurse
- Right to vote
A shoplifting conviction can be detrimental to your life even after serving the above possible sentences because it will show on your public criminal record. That means it could be challenging to secure housing because any prospective landlord will check your criminal background before allowing you to live in his/her apartments.
You can increase your chances of countering shoplifting allegations by retaining the professional services of a defense attorney to protect your interests and legal rights throughout the prosecution process for an appealing outcome.
Defending A Shoplifting Charge During Trial
Building viable defense tactics for countering shoplifting charges requires an experienced defense attorney familiar with the court system ins and outs. Below are applicable legal defenses for countering shoplifting charges under PC 459.5:
You Didn’t Have the Criminal Intent to Shoplift
Because the prosecutor must prove that you had the intent to shoplift or steal before going inside the store, lack of intent to shoplift can be a viable legal defense to counter these charges. The courts consider this defense applicable because being absent-minded or distracted can make you pick merchandise in a store and accidentally walk out without paying for it.
In that situation, it is reasonable to argue that you did not have the criminal intent to shoplift or steal.
You are a Victim of Police Misconduct
Police misconduct is an issue that makes many defendants face wrongful arrests and convictions for crimes they did not commit in the first place. It is not uncommon or unusual for police officers to respond to criminal allegations in unlawful and inexperienced ways.
Because of your skin color or race, you might be subject to the following forms of police misconduct, and the court acknowledges that:
- Coerced confessions
- Violation of your constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizures
- Fabrication or implanting of incriminating evidence
If your defense attorney convinces the judge that your arrest was due to police misconduct, the court will drop your alleged shoplifting case.
Another legal defense argument the court will consider in a shoplifting trial is whether or not you are factually innocent of the alleged shoplifting charge. Your defense attorney can legally argue that you are a victim of mistaken identity, meaning you did not take any property or merchandise from the store.
Insufficient Evidence to Prove You Guilty
If the prosecutor cannot prove each piece of evidence against you beyond a reasonable doubt as required, you should not be guilty of violating PC 459.5. If the prosecutor doesn’t have witnesses or surveillance videos to support his/her argument against you, his/her case against you will be weak.
In such a case, an experienced defense attorney will use this defense argument to counter shoplifting charges against you for a favorable outcome.
Offenses Closely Related to Shoplifting Under the Law
The following offenses are closely related to shoplifting, meaning the prosecutor can file any of them against you if he or she lacks sufficient evidence to prove your guilt during the trial:
The prosecutor might secure a conviction against you for violating petty theft laws under PC 484 if he or she can show the jury that:
- The stolen merchandise or goods were worth $950 or less
- You did not have permission to take possession of the goods in question
- After unlawfully taking the property, you left the store or business establishment
- You had the intent to deprive the business owner of his/her legal rights to possess the property in question for some time
A conviction for violating PC 484 will make you subject to misdemeanor penalties, including a maximum of six months jail term and a fine not exceeding $1,000.
Unlike in a shoplifting case where the business has to be open for you to be guilty of the charge, the court will hold you guilty of violating PC 484 even if the business establishment was unopen.
Grand theft is chargeable as a wobbler offense because the worth of the stolen property or merchandise in question is generally high. You violate grand theft laws under PC 487 if:
- You take another person’s property or merchandise from any environment, even if it is not a business.
- You didn’t have permission to take the property or merchandise
- The merchandise or the property’s worth is more than $950
A conviction for violating grand theft laws under PC 487 will attract an incarceration term of sixteen months, two years, or three years in the state prison.
Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
The best reliable way to fight a shoplifting charge is to have a professional and reliable legal defense attorney by your side. At Long Beach Criminal Attorney, we are prepared and ready to take your call immediately to begin building the best defense tactics to fight for a lesser severe charge or acquittal of the alleged shoplifting charges against you.
Call us at 562-308-7807 to schedule your first consultation with defense attorneys who are familiar with the criminal justice system.