Theft, particular property theft, is one of the most common crimes in California. Shoplifting is a kind of theft charge and comes with the some of the same consequences any theft would. However, shoplifting is in a slightly different category because the theft is from a merchant on a merchant's property. Generally, theft charges in California are categorized by what is stolen, from where and what value the item had. As a result of theft, you can get an infraction, a misdemeanor or a felony in California, depending on the case facts and how prosecution wants to charge you. California shoplifting laws differentiate between two types, or degrees, of theft: petty theft and grand theft. Petty theft is generally the theft of something of low value and/or low importance. It is a theft charge nonetheless, however because of the value of the item, it is punished less severely than grand theft is. In California, petty theft is usually the charge incurred when the item stolen is valued at less than $950. Most, but not all, shoplifting charges will land somewhere in this area. Many instances of shoplifting involve items of relatively little value, partly due to the circumstances of the crime: taking something from a store and usually hiding it on your body. If the item stolen is valued at less than $50, you could face an infraction or a misdemeanor petty theft charge. The prosecution has some discretion on how to charge you in these scenarios. In infraction comes with a fine however no jail time or probation. If the item stolen is more than $50 but less than $950, you generally will face a misdemeanor petty theft charge. When you hear the words "grand theft", you might think of stealing cars or large amounts of money. In California, you can be charged with the grand theft degree if you steal something valued at over $950. Certain items, like guns or livestock, may be valued at much less than $950 and still result in a grand theft charge. Grand theft is understandably a more serious charge and comes with a harsher punishment. Likewise, the punishment for shoplifting may be determined based off of the item stolen, the value of that item and whether you have any prior offenses. If you have no prior theft related offenses, you could be charged with an infraction or a misdemeanor, and given a fine between $50 and $1,000 with a maximum of six months in jail. It is important to note that if you shoplift, part of your sentencing can include paying damages and costs to the merchant whom you shoplifted from. You can face an additional civil suit in small claims court as well, if the merchant chooses to seek further damages. Some merchants may have the resources to take you to court and some will not, but it is never a good idea to assume otherwise. Consult with an experienced attorney if you think you may be going to small claims court as a result of your shoplifting. A skilled attorney may be able to help you settle out of court. While small claims court is not the same as a criminal court, you could still be ordered to pay the attorneys fees of the merchant, on top of damages and costs, also called a judgment. Having a small claims judgment against you may also come back to haunt you later on in future civil suits. Remember that a merchant has a right to detain you until the police come to arrest you, if they have reason to believe you shoplifted. Resisting them and/or running away can result in serious consequences so this is not advised. It is better to face the consequences of being arrested and just consult with a criminal defense attorney prior to your hearing. Shoplifting and fleeing the scene can result in more fines and more jail time with much less of a chance at negotiating down any sentencing. With a good attorney, you have a chance at walking away with just in infraction so always err on the side of caution and do not try to flee. Remember, the prosecution must prove you knowingly took an item from a merchant's establishment in order to convict you. There may be a legal defense that can challenge this element of your case, which could help you avoid any criminal charge at al.
Have you or a loved one been charged with shoplifting or some form of theft? Contact attorney Christopher Martens and his skilled legal team for criminal defense in Tulare, Fresno or Kings County. Experienced in theft defense, our Visalia area legal team can ensure you take the right steps towards having a strong defense, ensuring you obtain the best possible outcome. Call our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.