While some states have specific shoplifting statutes, California does not. Instead, California’s criminal justice system treats shoplifting under its general theft laws. According to California Penal Code Section 484, theft involves someone feloniously stealing, taking, carrying, leading or driving away personal property that belongs to another individual or entity.
Shoplifting may constitute petty theft or grand theft depending on the value of the items.
Petty theft ranges from an infraction to a misdemeanor offense. When the crime involves property with a value up to $50, it is up to the prosecutor to charge it as an infraction or misdemeanor. The maximum fine for shoplifting up to $50 worth of property is $250. When the property value is worth more than $50, it is punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and six months in jail.
Grand theft applies to the shoplifting of items that are worth more than $950. It is a misdemeanor offense with penalties of up to one year in jail. But if grand theft involves shoplifting a firearm, it is a felony that is punishable by up to three years of imprisonment.
It is important for anyone facing shoplifting charges to be aware of changes to the law. The decision of Californians to reduce penalties for property crimes in 2014 through the passage of Proposition 47 has a direct effect on shoplifting defendants. According to CBS SF BayArea, this law is the reason that shoplifting anything below $950 counts as a misdemeanor instead of a felony.