Shoplifting Laws in California: Learn About California Shoplifting Laws

by Kourtney C.

California Shoplifting Laws, Shoplifting Laws California

What are the Shoplifting Laws in California?

Shoplifting is an act of petty store theft where a shoplifter picks up the displayed object, and conceals it on his person, and exits the store without paying for it. It assumes various forms viz., swapping of price labels, consuming an eatable and walk away unnoticed, refund fraud, etc Shoplifters normally zero in on items that are small, compact, and portable. The most common items that shoplifters lookout for cigarettes, soaps, toothbrushes, USB flash drives, smartphones, mints, candies, clothes, cosmetics, books- best selling authors, etc

In the eyes of law, shoplifting is considered a misdemeanor and larceny if the purchase value determined is small. Every store owner goes through anxious moments on account of retail losses incurred, and not within his control. Shoplifting is a rising trend and needs to be brought under control through various measures.

Californian Law on Shoplifting

California does not have a shoplifting statute, unlike the other states. Shoplifting is a crime and comes under the purview of general theft laws. The Californian Penal Code under Section 484 clearly defines theft that involves: stealing, carrying away, taking, driving away with the property that belongs to an individual. On the other hand, shoplifting is considered petty theft depending on the retail price of the product.

California Shoplifting Laws

  • Petty theft: It’s up to the judge to decide if the offense should be classified as an infraction or misdemeanor if the value of a product is up to $50. The maximum fine imposed is $250 if a shoplifted product is worth up to $50. Punishment can be quite steep- up to $1000 in fine with a 6-month jail sentence.
  • Grand theft: Punishment under ‘Grand theft’ is awarded when the value of goods is greater than $950. It can be a misdemeanor offense with a jail sentence of up to one year. However, if it involves stealing a firearm, then it’s an offense of felony and punishable with a jail sentence of up to 3 years.
  • Proposition 47: is an amended notification (2014) to reduce penalties on shoplifting crimes that are less than $950. It shall be treated as a misdemeanor and not as a felony.

Post-2014, the intention to reduce penalties has sharply increased the quantum of crime in California. Many small traders and businessmen are struggling a lot ever since Californian voters were indignant about a reduction in theft penalties. A small toy shop owner complained that the shoplifters are smart and shrewd- they would pick up a remote control toy priced at $800. Just grab and run! The reason for stealing something priced at $800 is because the crime would be classified as a misdemeanor

for which there would not be a lookout notice nor punishment. The ballot vote of 2014 also reduce penalties for fraud, possession of drugs, forgery, etc

Under Proposition 47 defendants (shoplifters) are penalized to misdemeanors because they are considered as “non-serious and non-violent” unless the defendant has prior conviction history for murder, sexual crimes, or gun-related crimes.

Shoplifting Laws California


BEFORE the introduction of Proposition 47 it was considered as “commercial Burglary”:

Shoplifters were charged with a felony if the conditions were met:

- entering a commercial establishment during business hours

- intention to commit theft

- value of the stolen item is less than or equal to $950

AFTER introduction of Proposition 47:

Shoplifters are charged with a misdemeanor if the conditions were met:

- value of stolen merchandise is less than $950


Therefore, unlike other states, California has its jurisdiction and criminal justice system. It differs from other states as far as justice is meted out. It's the responsibility of citizens to be aware of the law because ignorance cannot be an excuse.

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