California “Shoplifting” Laws │ Penal Code 459.5 PC

February 15, 2016

In California, shoplifting is charged under penal code 459.5(a) pc making it a misdemeanor to enter a commercial establishment during regular hours with the specific purpose of committing a theft crime worth $950 or less. Moreover, the attempt of committing a theft crime will suffice to charge you with this offense.

Previously, if you entered a store with the intent to commit a theft crime, you’d be charged with commercial burglary. This however changed with California’s enactment of Proposition 47. Simply put, you will be charged with shoplifting if:

• You were not previously convicted of a “super-strike” offense;
• You’re not a 290 registrant;
• The crime was committed during business hours; and
• The value of the item(s) does not exceed $950.

Furthermore, you cannot be charged with burglary and theft of the same property.

What is the Legal Definition of Shoplifting?

Shoplifting is formally defined under PC 459.5(a) which states, “Notwithstanding Section 459, 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. Shoplifting shall be punished as a misdemeanor, except that a person with one or more prior convictions for an offense specified in clause (iv) of subparagraph (C) of paragraph (2) of subdivision (e) of Section 667 or for an offense requiring registration pursuant to subdivision (c) of Section 290 may be punished pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.”

What Must the Prosecutor Prove for CA Shoplifting?

To prove guilt under PC 459.5, the prosecution must prove each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

1. You entered a commercial structure (or establishment) during regular business hours;

2. You harbored the intent to commit a theft valued $950 or less prior to entry.

What is the Punishment for Shoplifting?

With the exception of alternative sentencing for first-time offenders, the punishment for shoplifting is up to 6 months in the county jail and a fine up to $1,000. Restitution may be ordered in the event any damaged property.

What are the Legal Defenses to Shoplifting?


You did not harbor the requisite intent to commit a theft prior to your entry into the store. Instead, you formulated the intent to steal once you were inside. In most instances, the prosecutor proves your state of mind prior to entry based on your incriminating statements give to police once you’ve been detained or arrested.


The business consented for you to take them item without paying. This could occur if you were exchanging an item you previously purchased under the direction of the business.

Constitutional Violation

The police illegally searched or seized you in violation of your Fourth Amendment right under the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, your incriminating statements were illegal obtained in violation of your Miranda rights.

What are Examples of Shoplifting?

• Walking into a grocery store with the intent to steal food items.

• Entering into an electronics store with the intent to steal a television but changing your mind while you’re inside.

• Entering a store with the intent to steal, grabbing a bag of food, and leaving it next to the entrance as you leave.

Free Criminal Defense Consultation

If you’ve been arrested or cited for shoplifting under PC 459.5, then you need to secure counsel. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with an experienced Orange County criminal defense attorney.

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