Although shoplifting charges don't appear as grave of a crime compared to most Criminal Law Cases, it still has penalties that can directly affect you and your future. If you have ever been charged with petty theft in California, it's best to find a Criminal Law Attorney that can keep it off your record. Consider one of our prescreened California Attorneys in your Cal Bar Attorney Search.

california criminal attorney near me

Find A California Criminal Defense Attorney for Petty Theft and Shoplifting Charges

Theft, often known as larceny, is the taking of another person's property without their agreement and with the intent to deprive the owner of that property permanently. When the value of the object taken is less than a certain amount, such as $500, a person commits petty theft (also known as misdemeanor theft). Shoplifting is a crime that occurs when articles of merchandise are taken from a shop or store. Petty theft laws in certain states involve shoplifting or retail crimes, but shoplifting laws and punishments are separate in other places.

California's Classification of Theft Offenses and Penalties

California, like many other jurisdictions, categorizes theft charges according to the value of the property taken. The value of stolen property in California is determined by the property's reasonable and fair market value. If services are stolen, their value is established by the contract price for those services or, if no contract price is available, by the reasonable and going wage for those services.

Petty TheftPetty theft is defined by California law as the theft of any property worth less than $950. The majority of minor thefts are classified as misdemeanors, punishable by up to six months in county imprisonment, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. If the property is worth less than $50, the prosecutor can charge the offense as an infraction if the offender has no previous theft-related convictions. Petty theft is penalized by a fine of up to $250 if it is charged as an offense.

Petty Theft With a Prior Conviction ("Petty With a Prior"). If the perpetrator has the following prior convictions:

  • at least one previous petty or theft-related prosecution for which a prison term was served
  • a prior guilty verdict for a serious or violent infraction, any currently registered sex offense, or embezzlement for which a prison term was served, a petty theft involving property valued at $950 or less may be charged as a felony or misdemeanor (called a "wobbler").

A misdemeanor carries a maximum punishment of one year in prison, whereas a felony carries a maximum term of 16 months, two years, or three years in prison.

Grand Theft. The theft of items worth more than $950 or the theft of a firearm is considered grand theft (any value). Stealing a firearm is a felony that carries a sentence of 16 months, two years, or three years in state prison. Grand theft is a wobbler in all other circumstances and can be punished as a misdemeanor or felony. A misdemeanor punishment carries a maximum punishment of one year in prison, while a felony penalty carries a maximum penalty of 16 months, two years, or three years in prison.

Looting. Looting is defined as committing grand theft or petty stealing during a state of emergency, municipal disaster, or evacuation order. Grand theft (stealing articles worth more than $950) is a wobbler violation, punishable by a misdemeanor of up to one year in prison and a felony of 16 months, two years, or three years in prison. When it comes to petty theft (stealing products worth less than $950), the penalty is a misdemeanor punishable by a six-month jail sentence. Both looting offenses have a mandatory minimum prison sentence that can only be reduced if a judge thinks it is in the best interests of justice.

What Is the Difference Between Petty Theft and Grand Theft?

Theft offenses are usually divided into at least two categories, if not more, by state legislation. Petty or misdemeanor theft refers to crimes punishable by a misdemeanor (a year or less in jail), whereas grand or felony theft refers to crimes penalized by a felony (more than a year in prison). To distinguish between petty and grand theft, most states' laws establish theft thresholds based on the value of the stolen items.

Petty theft in one state could be defined as taking property worth less than $500, whereas, in another state, the threshold could be set higher, such as $2,500. If the stolen property is worth more than that, the charges are upgraded to grand or felony theft. The nature of stolen property is also a consideration. For example, some states consider great theft any time a firearm or motor vehicle is stolen, regardless of its value.

The prosecuting attorney must prove all components of the offense that the accused individual (the defendant) is charged with committing in a theft prosecution (like in any criminal case). The following elements are present in theft cases:

  • It's all about ownership. The thing taken must have a "possessory interest" in the victim of the crime. If someone steals your jacket from your seat at a baseball game, for example, the crime is committed against you because you own the item. However, if someone else's jacket was placed on your seat and then vanished, the owner of the jacket would be the victim, not you. In order to effectively prosecute the accused thief, the prosecution would have to produce the jacket's owner in court.
  • Wrongful appropriation. Wrongful taking can refer to the wrongfully transferring monies or converting another's property to their own use (for example, utilizing an elderly parent's money to buy a sports vehicle instead of paying the parent's bills).
  • Without permission. The owner must not have provided his or her permission for the takeover. Consent gained through deception or trickery is ineffective. A petrol station owner, for example, who lets a motorist borrow his tools on the condition that the motorist will return them promptly has not given consent if the motorist meant to keep the tools all along.
  • Intending to permanently deprive. The accused must have intended to permanently deprive the owner of their property at the moment the property was seized. It isn't necessary for the deprivation to be accomplished; what matters is the goal. Taking property and dealing with it in a way that presents a significant danger of permanent loss, such as driving a car 900 miles and abandoning it behind an abandoned house, can qualify.

The crime should not be charged if the prosecution lacks evidence to support each of these components. The defendant is entitled to an acquittal unless the judge or jury can find that the components have been demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt.

Defending Against Theft Claims

When a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney is evaluating viable defenses to a theft allegation, the statutory definition of theft is often the first place he or she will examine. As previously stated, if any needed element of a theft offense is absent or cannot be proven, the charges may be dismissed (or may at least be reduced). As a result, a Criminal Defense Lawyer will investigate potential defenses based on the facts of the case and the state's definition of theft. Some of the questions that might be asked are:

  • Was the property genuinely taken by the offender?
  • Did the criminal believe the property was theirs or had a reasonable belief that they were entitled to take possession of it at the time it was taken?
  • Was it the offender's intention to return the items at some point?

Penalties for Theft

A theft charge's potential punishment (or sentencing) will be determined by a number of variables relating to the offense as well as the defendant's criminal history. For more information, see the state-specific links below, although in general, a judge may order one or more of the following at sentencing after a theft conviction:

  • incarceration
  • monetary penalties
  • volunteer work in the community
  • probationary period
  • restitution
  • Diversion programs

Most petty theft convictions fall under a state's misdemeanor statutes, which normally carry a maximum term of one year in prison (although other states' misdemeanors include terms of two or three years). For first-time offenders or low-level offenses, judges may consider alternatives to incarceration, such as probation, community work, or restitution. Repeat offenders are more likely to receive a sentence in prison. In many places, recurrent petty theft charges can result in a felony charge.

For Juvenile Cases

If a juvenile is charged with stealing, the case will almost certainly be handled by the juvenile justice system rather than a standard criminal court, and the juvenile will face a distinct set of punishments if the delinquency is determined.

los angeles criminal lawyers near me

Laws Against Shoplifting

Although shoplifting is a reasonably common act, the repercussions are nevertheless severe. A shoplifter may face criminal penalties as well as a civil case.

Although shoplifting violations are extremely widespread, this does not mean that they are not taken seriously. Shoplifting is covered by provisions in every state's penal (criminal) code (typically under the umbrella of theft or larceny regulations), and the penalties can be severe—especially if the product is valuable or the offender has a criminal record.

What Is the Definition of Shoplifting?

The theft of merchandise from a store without paying for it is commonly referred to as shoplifting. However, leaving a store with unpaid products is not the only way to conduct stealing. In some situations, the desire to steal, as well as an act committed in pursuit of that desire, can lead to charges of stealing (or retail fraud). The following is an example of a shoplifting-related act:

  • adjusting the price of a product
  • attempting to remove (or even removing) security tags or other theft-prevention equipment
  • while still in the store, concealing or hiding an item on your person (putting merchandise in your pocket or purse)
  • Taking an item out of its packing and hiding it in or among other items.

What Are the Charges and Penalties for Shoplifting?

Shoplifting is charged and punished as a theft or larceny offense in many states, usually as petty or misdemeanor theft if the value of the items stolen is less than a specific threshold (say, $200). For the purposes of prosecuting and sentencing, other states distinguish between shoplifting and general theft, and some treat shoplifting less harshly than other theft charges (such as an infraction rather than a misdemeanor).

The severity of the criminal prosecution that will follow from a shoplifting incident grows as the dollar worth of the stolen items increases. In some states, penalties begin as infractions and progress to misdemeanors or felonies. To designate offense levels, each state employs various criteria (money amounts).

Retail Theft Rings and Shoplifting "Sprees"

If proof exists indicating the incident was part of a shoplifting "spree" or systematic series of thefts from retail businesses, a person accused of stealing will be charged with a more serious crime (and/or face a harsher punishment) in many states. These schemes are referred to as "retail theft rings" or "organized retail theft" in some areas, especially when they involve the illicit resale of stolen goods. These types of offenses are usually felonies.

Liability in Civil Court for Shoplifting

In addition to any criminal consequences resulting from a shoplifting offense, every state provides a civil law under which someone who commits shoplifting can be held civilly accountable to the store owner (or the owner of the product) for monetary damages.

In almost every jurisdiction, a minor's parent or legal guardian may be held liable for monetary damages (though some jurisdictions require that the parent or guardian knew or should have known about the minor's tendency toward shoplifting). Some states reduce the penalty amount that a parent or minor must pay when the parent or legal guardian is liable for damages (compared to adult shoplifters). Foster parents are protected from liability in several areas.

Civil vs. Criminal Court

In most cases, a prosecutor from the government files criminal charges against a defendant. The action takes place in a criminal courtroom, and the punishments can include prison, fines, or a combination of the two. If a criminal defendant cannot afford an Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer, he or she has a right to a public defender (or a court-appointed attorney). Murder, assault, burglary, and theft are examples of criminal charges.

A lawsuit between two private parties is heard in civil court. The party who has been wronged (plaintiff) brings a lawsuit against the party who is accused of being at blame (defendant). In civil court, there is no right to a public defense or a court-appointed attorney. If the defendant loses the case, the prevailing party is usually awarded monetary damages. Breach of contract, medical malpractice, and personal injury claims are all examples of civil court disputes.

Many civil shoplifting laws require the store owner to issue a formal demand for payment before commencing a civil suit (and that the demand goes unmet). In most states, the civil case can go forward even if criminal charges are never filed in connection with the shoplifting event.

While each state's civil shoplifting statute is unique, typical financial obligation includes the payment or reimbursement of the following:

  • the retail value of the item stolen in its whole (if not returned in sellable condition)
  • significant financial damages incurred by the store owner as a result of the theft
  • an additional civil penalty, usually calculated using a formula that takes into account the value of the stolen goods ("an additional penalty of $500 or two times the worth of the goods, whichever is greater")
  • Court costs and reasonable attorneys' fees for the store or merchandise owner.

Can I be charged with shoplifting if I never took anything from the store?

It's possible to prove that the defendant meant to keep the object by demonstrating that he left without paying for it, but this isn't the only approach. Without leaving the business, a defendant can commit the offense of stealing. All he has to do is transfer the property and exert control over it in a manner that contradicts the store owner's reasonable assumptions about how customers will treat products.

Shopkeepers, for example, are aware that customers will handle an item to examine it, purchase it, try it on, show it to a friend, and so on. Shoppers may even take the item to a different section to compare it to other items. The crucial question is how that carrying and moving is performed.

Many clerks and security officers, on the other hand, will not apprehend a suspected thief until after he or she has left the store. The explanation isn't that they don't have a good reason to hold the person before that time. Instead, they simply want a case that can be closed and closed. It will be difficult to demonstrate that one intended to pay for the products after walking out without doing so; on the other hand, defendants who are apprehended before leaving the store may be able to persuade the jury that their conduct was consistent with a purpose to pay for the products later.

Pleading Guilty

It's usually never a smart idea to plead guilty at your first court appearance without first investigating to see if there are any other options available to you. Criminal convictions can stick with you for years, if not your entire life. They have an impact on your credit and employment prospects, as well as your ability to obtain a professional license or work in specific jobs or for specific employers. These repercussions are frequently far more severe than any punishment you would receive from the court. It may appear to be easier to simply plead guilty, especially if you've been informed you'll get probation, but keep in mind that court is only the beginning of the repercussions you'll face.

Your Criminal Record

Most folks who come to me for help don't realize that convictions don't simply "disappear" from your record after a specific length of time. Unless a court orders it sealed or purged, a criminal conviction remains on your public record for the rest of your life.

Even if you are qualified for expungement, you must file a motion and appear in court to obtain it, and the judge will decide whether or not to grant it. Expunged records are still accessible to the police and courts, and they can be revealed to some employers if they are relevant to the job you are applying for. Worse, credit agencies and employee investigation businesses have access to information about your conviction before it is wiped, and they are not compelled to delete it once it is. Many businesses hire such firms to do background checks on job applicants. They will continue to use your information once they get it.

Avoid Conviction by Participating in a Diversion Program.

For non-violent offenses like theft, most courts have diversion programs. Even someone who has been charged with felony theft may be eligible for diversion. A diversion program is identical to probation, except that you are never convicted of a crime, which is a life-changing difference. You may be forced to attend an educational program, make restitution, conduct community service, and refrain from subsequent arrests for a period of time if you are accepted for diversion. If you follow these requirements to the letter, your charge will be dismissed, and in many situations, your arrest record will be wiped from public records. Before you give up and plead guilty, always check to see if you are eligible for such a program.

The Process of Diversion

Diversion is a program that was designed and approved into law by the state legislature. It defines the crimes and characteristics of the offender that will allow the defendant to attend the program. Defendants are "diverted" to counseling early in the proceedings under various diversion systems. To receive diversion, the defendant does not have to enter a guilty or no-contest plea in various situations. Other methods require the defendant to formally admit guilt while deferring punishment until the defendant has completed diversion. (Because the plea isn't formally placed into the court system, it can be removed once the program is completed.)

Defendants generally pay a fee to the court, the treatment center, or both for their diversion programs. It is possible that the cost will be higher than a fine.

Six months to a year or more can be spent in a diversion program. Counseling, treatment, and behavior modification are prioritized in these programs over punitive measures. Participants are frequently required to agree to attend classes and vocational training, participate in individual or group treatment or counseling, conduct community service, pay restitution to any victims, and pay fines.

When individuals successfully finish the program, the case is brought back to court and dismissed once and for all. When a case is dismissed, the arrest record is usually not sealed or otherwise erased. Defendants may also be able to seek to have the case's record expunged or sealed.

The matter will be brought back to court if the defendant does not finish diversion or is released from the program due to failure to comply with its requirements (or for later criminal behavior). The judge can impose a sentence if the defendant already accepted a guilty or no-contest plea. If the defendant fails and the diversion program did not compel her to enter a plea beforehand, she will be required to do so, and the case will proceed as planned.

What kind of crimes is eligible for diversion?

Legislators designate the kind of infractions that make criminals eligible for diversionary programs when they create them. Petty theft, personal possession of some narcotics (not for sale), and, in some places, driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs are examples of small and non-violent offenses. Domestic violence and child abuse or neglect are included in some states, like an assault with minimal or no injuries.

Who is eligible for a diversion?

Most programs only accept those who have never been convicted of the charge they are facing. The following are some of the most common requirements for drug diversion:

  • There have been no revocations of probation for any prior offenses.
  • prior to the current case, a period of being "clean," or without convictions
  • There will be no diversions within a certain amount of time.

A guilty plea should only be used as a last resort.

Remember that if you've exhausted all other options and still believe that pleading guilty is the best option, you still have the option of pleading guilty. A guilty plea should only be used as a last resort, not as your first option.

It's also possible that you'll be able to defend yourself in court. In your shoplifting case, the following concerns may arise:

  • Mistakes.
  • Security guards at stores are not police officers. They create errors and mishandle information.
  • Witnesses are unavailable.

Private security guards rarely stay at the same job or address for long periods of time. The prosecutor will not be able to establish the charge unless there is a videotape that can be identified by someone if the witness who claims to have seen you steal is unavailable.

Inflating the worth of stolen property.

Stores frequently declare that their loss is far more than it actually is. A large alleged loss could turn your case into a felony or prevent you from receiving diversion. It will undoubtedly raise the amount of restitution you must pay.

However, the shop must prove the amount of loss claimed. If they can't, the amount of reparation or even the charge level could be reduced. You may not be liable for the entire loss if another defendant or insurance company has paid part of the restitution sum. If you just plead guilty, you will be acknowledging not only your culpability but also the amount of the store's loss.

Adult Criminal Record Expungement or Sealing

Almost every state has passed legislation allowing persons to have arrested and, in many cases, convictions removed from their records. Having a criminal record that includes a conviction—or merely an arrest—can have a detrimental impact on a person's life. Your criminal record could be expunged or sealed, which could lead to new chances.

Because most companies and landlords now conduct background checks on candidates as a matter of course, a criminal record can be a barrier to obtaining employment, housing, and professional licensing. And most professional licensing applications ask for details about an applicant's criminal history. Even a single minor criminal charge such as misdemeanor trespassing or disorderly conduct on a person's record can generate problems years later. Fortunately, depending on the nature of your record and the legislation in the state where the incident occurred, you may be able to purge or expunge your criminal record.

Is it Possible to Have Your Record Expunged?

The first step in getting your record expunged is to check if you're eligible. Although a few states have severe rules that make it difficult to remove accurate arrest or conviction records, the majority of states offer expungement procedures that are based on the following factors:

  • whether or whether you were convicted of a crime
  • If you were convicted, the severity of the offense would be considered.
  • When was the last time you were arrested or convicted?
  • whether and when you successfully completed the terms of your sentence, probation, or diversion program (typically there is a waiting period), and if and when you successfully completed the terms of your sentence, probation, or diversion program (typically there is a waiting period)
  • whether you've been convicted of previous crimes or if you're facing criminal charges

Except in cases of mistaken identity or identity theft, when you are not the person who was convicted of the crime, it is unlikely that any state legislation will allow expungement of a particularly serious crime, such as a violent felony or a sex violation. Expungement of misdemeanor DUIs and domestic violence convictions are either prohibited or limited in some states (for example, by enforcing a lengthier waiting time).

A few states either automatically delete older criminal records or require the court to do so after a case is dismissed. However, because each state functions differently and rules change over time, you should always check for revisions to your state's legislation.

Making an Expungement Request

You may not need to employ an L.A. Criminal Defense Lawyer if your criminal record is qualified for expungement. Some states make applying for expungement simple, and many court websites provide free expungement information and paperwork. In order to file an expungement application with the court, you will normally have to pay a fee. However, check the court's website to determine if you qualify for a free filing (sometimes referred to as in forma pauperis.) You will need the help of an experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer in more complicated instances.

If You Were Not Convicted of a Crime in California, You Could Apply for Sealing

Despite the fact that most companies are banned from inquiring about arrests that do not result in convictions, you may still want your arrest record sealed. Under the following situations, your arrest record may be sealed.

If you can show that you were "factually innocent" of the charged crime, you will be exonerated. You must show that there were no legitimate grounds for your arrest in the first place; your innocence is not shown by the fact that you were not convicted. If you believe you are eligible for a proclamation of innocence, you will need the assistance of an L.A. Criminal Defense Lawyer.

If you were arrested but were not convicted, or if your conviction was annulled and overturned on appeal. You have the right to request that your record be sealed at any time if:

  • You were arrested but not charged with a crime, and each offense for which you were arrested has passed the statute of limitations.
  • The charges against you were dismissed, and they cannot be re-filed.
  • You were found not guilty of the charges leveled against you.
  • You were convicted, but your conviction was overturned or vacated on appeal, the appeals process has run its course, and the charges cannot be re-filed.

Your arrest record, on the other hand, is ineligible for sealing if:

  • You could still face charges for the offense that led to your arrest.
  • You were charged with murder or any other crime for which there is no statute of limitations, and you have yet to be acquitted or declared factually innocent.
  • You obstructed law enforcement's efforts to prosecute the arrest on purpose.

If You Were Convicted of a Crime in California, You Could Be Dismissed

You were sentenced to probation after being convicted of a misdemeanor or felony. If you were convicted of a misdemeanor or felony, were sentenced to probation, and have completed all of the terms of your sentence, you may ask for a discharge. If you are currently charged with, on probation for, or serving a term for another offense, your conviction will not be overturned. If you have committed a sex crime against a minor or certain violations of the California Vehicle Code, you will not be eligible for a discharge.

best criminal defense attorney los angeles

You were sentenced to probation after being convicted of a misdemeanor or felony, and the court agreed to dismiss your case.

If you can persuade the court that a dismissal is in the best interests of justice, the following offenses may be dismissed:

  • If you have otherwise satisfied all of the requirements of your sentence—such as paying fines and restitution—convictions for which you did not complete probation or earned an early release.
  • Convictions under California Vehicle Code 12810(a)-(e), if all of the requirements of your sentence have been met.
  • You received a sentence other than probation after being convicted of an infraction or a misdemeanor.

If you were convicted of an infraction or a misdemeanor and sentenced to anything other than probation, you might seek a dismissal. To apply, you must complete all terms of your sentence successfully and wait at least one year from the date of the verdict in your case. If you are currently charged with or serving a term for another crime, your conviction will not be overturned.

You were sentenced to county imprisonment after being convicted of a felony.

If you were convicted of a felony and sentenced to county jail, you might file a petition for dismissal. You must wait at least one year after fulfilling all conditions of your sentence to apply if your sentence includes obligatory supervision; if your sentence did not include mandatory supervision, the waiting period is two years. If you are currently charged with, on probation for, or serving a term for another offense, your conviction will not be overturned.

You were sentenced to state prison after being convicted of a felony.

If you were convicted of a crime before October 1, 2011, were sentenced to state prison, and your conviction is now eligible for sentencing to county jail under California's current statutes, you may petition for a dismissal. To apply, you must wait two years after your sentence has ended. If you are on supervised release or are currently charged with, on probation for, or serving a term for another offense, your conviction will not be overturned.

Your conviction will not be dismissed if you were convicted of a crime and sentenced to state prison under any other conditions.

A criminal record is not erased or sealed by a Certification of Rehabilitation or a pardon. Instead, you can ask the governor for a Certification of Rehabilitation (a court ruling stating that a person has been rehabilitated) and a pardon.

You've been charged with marijuana possession.

If you were arrested for or convicted of marijuana possession, transporting, or giving away 28.5 grams or less of marijuana, you might not need to file a petition for dismissal. If you were convicted after January 1, 1976, your criminal record should be cleared after two years. Note that convictions for growing, selling, or transporting more than 28.5 grams of marijuana are not included.

Find A Shoplifting and Petty Theft Defense Lawyer in California offers a Free Attorney Referral Service Certified by the California Bar Association that can refer a Criminal Defense Lawyer best fit to handle your case. Contact us through our 24/7 Live Chat (or complete our case details submission form) for a free initial review.