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California Shoplifting Laws & Defense

Penal Code 459.5(a)

Information on the crime of shoplifting can be found at California penal code section 459.5(a).

PC 459.5 Law (Abbr.)

Shoplifting is defined as entering a commercial establishment with intent to commit larceny while that establishment is open during regular business hours, where the value of the property that is taken or intended to be taken does not exceed nine hundred fifty dollars ($950). Any other entry into a commercial establishment with intent to commit larceny is burglary.

In simpler terms, according to PC 459.5, in order for the district attorney to prove that the defendant committed the crime of shoplifting he or she will have to prove that the defendant either stole property, with a value under $950, from a business, or that the defendant intended to steal property, with a value under $950, from a business.

The term larceny in PC 459.5 law means theft. Theft is defined as the unlawful taking of the property of another coupled with the intent to permanently deprive the true of owner of the property. 

The value of the property taken is usually calculated as the value listed on the item in the business, such as the price tag on a bar of soap or on a loaf of bread. But in cases where there is no price tag on the item taken the market value will be used to determine the value.

Note: Intent to permanently deprive the true owner of the property taken is required to prove a shoplifting charge, but that does not mean that the defendant must actually intend to take the property from the store. For example, if the defendant intentionally destroys an item in a store that is otherwise for sale the defendant may be charged with shoplifting because destroying an item is equal to the intent to permanently deprive the true owner of property.

Punishment for Shoplifting

PC 459.5(a) is charged as a misdemeanor. If found guilty of shoplifting the defendant may face up to 180 days in the county jail. Alternatives to actual jail sentences, such as probation sentences that include work release or house arrest, are more common than actual jail sentences, but every case is different and there is no guarantee that the defendant will not face actual jail time...even for a shoplifting case.

The facts of the case and the defendant's criminal history play a large part in deciding whether the defendant will be ordered to serve actual jail time upon a conviction for any PC 459.5 charge.

Additional PC 459.5(a) Penalties

  • Immigration consequences (for non-U.S. citizens). Punishment can include deportation, denial of immigration status, or denial of reentry into the United States. Note: Shoplifting should be considered a crime of moral turpitude for purposes of immigration cases.
  • Consequences for licensed Professionals (doctors, dentists, therapist, nurses, lawyers, teachers, etc.). Any conviction for shoplifting may be used against licensed professionals in discipline proceedings.
  • Probation terms that can include orders for work release or house arrest (electronic monitoring), restitution to victims, payment of fines, stay-away orders (from the business victimized), and more.
  • Enhanced penalties for future criminal conduct, including enhanced penalties for any violation of probation terms.
  • Civil lawsuits from the business where the shoplifting occurred. Usually the business makes a demand for payment without filing an actual lawsuit but every case is different and a business has the right to sue the defendant in shoplifting cases for the value of the property stolen and punitive damages.

Defenses to PC 459.5 Crimes

It may be possible to have PC 459.5 charges dismissed or reduced depending on the strength of the evidence in the case and defendant's criminal history. Every shoplifting case is different and therefore there is no one-way to defend against PC 459.5(a) charges. However, the list of defenses below represents some of the more common defenses in a shoplifting case.

Common defenses to PC 459.5(a) charges include: Lack of intent to commit theft (insufficient evidence), extreme intoxication, claim of right, consent, coerced confessions by law enforcement, insanity, statute of limitations (1 year from the date of incident), alibi defense, necessity, mistake of fact, and more.

For more information on the crime of shoplifting, or PC 459.5(a), contact our experienced and successful criminal defense attorneys today for a free consultation. Our criminal attorneys are available twenty-four hours a day, seven day a week to answer all of your question and discuss all of your defense options. Call today!


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