Shoplifting is not limited to the mere act of taking something from a store without paying for it. If you change the price tag on an item to avoid paying the full cost, or if you eat food in a grocery store without paying for it, you are shoplifting. When you find yourself accused of shoplifting, it can be easy to assume these accusations are no big deal since this is one of the most common crimes out there, particularly among juvenile offenders, but these charges can leave you in jail, which is why it is critical to hire a Vista shoplifting lawyer if you have been accused of this crime.
Shoplifting Charges in California
Up until 2014, California charged this crime as a form of theft and those who took more than $950 worth of merchandise would face grand theft charges while those who took less than that would face petty theft charges. In many cases, shoplifters would even be accused of burglary, a felony, if prosecutors and police believed the defendant entered the store with the intent to steal. But the state’s Proposition 47 spelled out a specific definition for shoplifting, which protected those who took less than $950 worth of merchandise from facing burglary charges.
Since the law was enacted, the new definition of shoplifting involves entering a business during its regular hours and either taking, or intending to take, goods valued at less than $950. If the suspect enters the business outside of its regular hours, then standard theft, trespassing and burglary charges may apply. If more than $950 worth of merchandise is taken, the suspect will still face grand theft charges.
Whereas the previous law required someone to actually take goods from the store, security guards can now stop shoplifters before they exit the store if they see someone attempting to steal. That being said, the prosecution must be able to prove that the person intended to steal, so while someone shoving a video game down their waistband can result in charges, if someone puts something in their bag with the intention to pay for it at the register and they are stopped before they have the chance, their lawyer should be able to have the charges dropped. Similarly, if someone left a store with an item under their cart that they forgot to pay for, but did not intentionally take, they would be unlikely to face charges.
Even after the new law took affect, those who physically resist the people attempted to arrest them can be charged with robbery, a felony. If you have been charged with multiple charges, a good Vista shoplifting defense lawyer may be able to have some charges dropped or reduced.
Shoplifting charges are almost always a misdemeanor, punishable by no more than six months in jail and $1,000 in fines. If the defendant has previously been convicted for certain serious crimes, including homicide or an offense requiring sex offender registration though, the charges will be a felony, punishable by up to $10,000 in fines and up to 3 years in jail. In some circumstances, when the stolen items were valued at less than $50, a Vista shoplifting attorney may be able to convince the prosecution to charge the crime as an infraction, meaning you will not face any jail time at all and the offense will not end up on your criminal record.
It’s also worth noting that most first-time offenders who have taken goods valued at more than $950 will usually face misdemeanor grand theft charges unless the goods were particularly valuable. As a misdemeanor, grand theft is punishable by no more than one year in jail and as a felony, it can carry a sentence of up to 3 years.
Fighting the Charges
It is important to remember that you can fight and win against these charges or at very least end up with a plea bargain that minimizes the charges against you. Common defenses include having an item in the bottom of your cart that you meant to pay for, but simply forgot about or that you were stopped by security before leaving store property and that you were going to pay for the merchandise but you were denied the chance.
Alternatively, the District Attorney has a new program for some petty theft cases where they offer a modified diversion program. The program requires the defendant to plead guilty, take a shoplifting class, then get charges dismissed. There is concern, however, that a plea of guilty still might create the perception on a background check that the person was, in fact, convicted of shoplifting.
Whatever the specifics of your case, it is important you not speak with the police until you have your Vista shoplifting lawyer present. You can schedule a free initial consultation with Peter M. Liss by calling (760) 643-4050.