Pursuant to California Penal Code §459.5, the crime of shoplifting occurs when an individual goes into a commercial building with the purpose of committing a larceny inside that commercial location, during normal business hours. An additional requirement for a conviction of larceny under California Penal Code §459.5 is that the property the Defendant intends to steal when he enters the commercial building be valued at less than $950. Any entrance into a commercial location for the purpose of committing larceny will be charged as a burglary, as opposed to shoplifting. The California Penal Code establishes the offense as entering a store with the present purpose of committing the crime of theft inside the store as being the crime of shoplifting.

Based on the definition of shoplifting set forth in California Penal Code §459.5, if a person enters a store, a proceeds to satisfy the elements of theft while inside the store that individual may face charges of shoplifting. There are many common sense scenarios where these elements are satisfied, but a few examples are in order. Jake walks into the local Ralphs supermarket with the intent of stealing three bottles of Knob Creek, a delicious alcoholic beverage. Once he has completed the theft, Jake will be guilty of shoplifting. Alternatively, a mother of two, who has no money to her name, enters the local grocery store for the purpose of stealing food for her children, when she completes the theft she could be convicted of shoplifting.

Additionally, California defines the crime of shoplifting as a specific intent crime, this means that the theft does not need to be completed per se, and technically speaking the crime of shoplifting is complete the moment an individual enters a store with the intent to commit a theft inside.


Clark goes to a local REI store with the intent of stealing new hiking boots. While inside, Clark notices he is being followed by the store’s security officer, and leaves without purchasing anything. Clark could still be convicted of shoplifting simply because he entered the store during regular business hours with the specific intent to steal hiking boots.


Tom enters a jewelry store with the intent of stealing a watch. Tom walks around casing the area, and taking note of which employees seem inattentive or otherwise occupied. When the time is right, Tom swipes the first watch he can, and leaves the store. It turns out that the watch was worth $1,500. Tom is not guilty of shoplifting, but he can face charges of burglary.

To be convicted under §459.5 in California, the Prosecution must prove the following two elements, beyond a reasonable doubt, to the jury:

  • You entered a commercial location during the course of ordinary business hours; and
  • You intended to commit theft of an item that is valued at less than $950.

Since the Prosecution has to prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt, it is important to have a comprehensive understanding of each of the elements. The attorneys at Orange County Criminal Attorney Law Firm have ample experience representing criminal defendants against a wide range of criminal charges. This includes criminal charges for shoplifting. Using their understanding of the law and the legal process, your OCCA attorney will fight to obtain a positive outcome to your case.

Enter A Commercial Establishment During Business Hours.

As clarified above, in order to be convicted on a shoplifting charge the Defendant must have entered a commercial location, during the course of regular business hours. California law defines the act of “entering” as any portion of an individual’s body crossing the threshold into the establishment. As an example, it would be enough to maintain a conviction for shoplifting if an individual walked by an open window of a store, and reached in with the intent to grab something worth less than $950. Any portion of a person’s body that enters a commercial location, paired with a present intent to commit theft will satisfy the elements of shoplifting.
It should be noted that if an individual enters a commercial establishment after business hours, the crime is a burglary, not shoplifting.

Intention To Commit A Theft And The Property Taken Does Not Exceed $950.

As noted above, the crime detailed in California Penal Code §459.5 is a specific intent crime in California. This means that in order to be convicted of shoplifting, the Defendant must have had the specific intent to commit a theft inside the store at the time they actually entered the store. If the Defendant had no intention of committing a theft inside the store when they entered, it is unlikely that a conviction will stand against that person. If an individual entered a store, and mulled around for several minutes until he saw an item he just needed to have, then decided to steal that item, that person cannot be convicted of shoplifting because the intent was not present at the time he entered the store.

As a practical consideration, it is very difficult for the Prosecution to prove that the Defendant actually had the specific intent to commit a theft inside the store at the time the Defendant entered. The Prosecutor will present circumstantial evidence in the hopes that they will sway the jury, but a skilled attorney on your side will effectively eviscerate the Prosecution’s case against you if they do not have substantial evidence of your state of mind when you entered the store. The Prosecution will generally introduce video surveillance footage at trial to prove your intent when you entered the store. There are many things that could lead one to the conclusion that the Defendant had the requisite intent at the time they entered the store. For example, he video footage could show the Defendant outside the store tracking the security guard and where he was going, the footage could show that the Defendant entered the store after he saw the security guard go the other way, the footage could also show the Defendant making a bee line to the item he stole. Absent evidence of this nature, it is very difficult to prove the elements of shoplifting beyond a reasonable doubt.

Theft and shoplifting are two distinct crimes. Some people who are guilty of shoplifting are charged with petty theft, this is because an individual, who takes the extra step of actually taking the item they intended to steal, has now committed a theft, which carries stiffer consequences, and is more morally culpable. Furthermore, a Defendant can only be charged with petty theft, or shoplifting, not both.

If the value of the property is more than $950, the crime becomes enhanced to either grand theft, or burglary.

What Are The Penalties I Could Face If I Am Convicted Of Shoplifting?

Typically, shoplifting is a misdemeanor offense, which is punishable by up to one year of incarceration, a fine of up to $1,000, or a combination of imprisonment and a fine. However, under the Penal code, the punishment could become more severe as a felony. If the Defendant has a prior conviction, which is specifically set out in the code, the penalties could extend much longer.
As such, if the Defendant has a prior conviction for an enumerated felony, and is convicted of shoplifting, they could face incarceration spanning from sixteen months, to two years, or even three years, and a fine of up to $10,000, or a combination of both

What Are The Legal Defenses My Attorney Can Raise If I Am Charged With Shoplifting?

In California, the charge that is filed will depend on the person’s criminal background. If you have no criminal background, the Prosecutor will likely bring a misdemeanor shoplifting charge against you. If you do have a prior conviction, the prosecutor might bring the petty theft charge against you. If you are seeking employment, many employers conduct a background check on all potential new hires. If this occurs, they will be aware of your conviction for shoplifting or petty theft. While this crime isn’t looked at with as much negative feeling associated with it, it still involves dishonesty and thievery, which many employers view as a red flag, and typically they will not hire the individual. If you have been accused of shoplifting contact an attorney at Orange County Criminal Attorney immediately. As mentioned above, it is very difficult to prove your intentions at the time you entered the commercial establishment. The Prosecution will have to prove your intent beyond a reasonable doubt either through video footage, or eye witness testimony. Having a killed attorney on your side could very well result in acquittal either by having the surveillance thrown out of evidence, or through cross-examination of the eye witness by your attorney. Ultimately, your OCCA attorney can raise several defenses against the charge against you. Some of the arguments your OCCA attorney can raise on your behalf include:

  • Lack of intent to commit the crime.
  • Mistake of fact.
  • Sometimes a person is charged with shoplifting for an inaccurate reason. For example, a security guard at the commercial establishment may mistakenly believe they observed you attempt to steal an item from the store. This could be motivated by many reasons, or it could be entirely innocent. If this is the case, your OCCA attorney will meet with the Prosecutor, advocate on your behalf, and seek to have the charges dropped against you.
  • Wrongfully accused.

Under California law, it is far too easy to accuse someone of a crime they did not commit. Sometimes this occurs as a result on envy, jealous, rage, or revenge. If you have been wrongfully accused of shoplifting, your OCCA attorney will vigorously advocate your innocence in an effort to have the case against you dismissed. Call our Orange County Criminal Attorney today for a free consultation.