Shoplifting Charges in California

Learn about the laws, penalties and civil consequences of a shoplifting charge in California. Find out if you can avoid a conviction and criminal record

Shoplifting is a serious crime in California, with criminal penalties including jail time and fines. In addition to criminal penalties, shoplifters face civil lawsuits by victimized merchants to recover damages.

California Shoplifting Laws

California law punishes shoplifting as theft (California Penal Code § 484). Theft refers to actions including feloniously stealing, carrying away, or otherwise appropriating someone else's property, with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of that property. Theft in California is broken up into two basic categories - petty theft and grand theft - based on the dollar value of goods stolen. A person with multiple prior offenses may also be subject to more stringent penalties under Penal Code section 666. Criminal and civil penalties for shoplifting are described below.

California Shoplifting Criminal Penalties




Petty theft: theft of property valued at less than $50 with no prior related convictions

Infraction (This may also be charged as a misdemeanor at the discretion of the prosecutor, see misdemeanor penalties below)

Fine up to $250

Petty theft: theft of goods valued at less than $950

Misdemeanor (Some offenses may be charged as infractions, see above)

If charged as a misdemeanor, mandatory fine between $50 and$1,000 and/or up to six months of jail time for first time conviction of petty theft of retail merchandise

Grand theft: theft of goods valued at $950 or greater or theft of a firearm

Misdemeanor or felony

If the charge was based on stealing a firearm, jail time for 16 months two years, or three years; in other situations, incarceration up to one year

Civil Penalties

In addition to criminal penalties, an adult or emancipated minor shoplifter (or the parents/legal guardians of a minor who commits shoplifting) can be held civilly liable to the owner of the merchandise for:

  • damages of at least $50 but not more than $500, and
  • the retail value of the merchandise if it is not recovered in sellable condition.

Pretrial Diversion Programs and Plea Bargains

California provides pretrial diversion programs to certain individuals accused of first-time or low-level crimes as an alternative to prosecution. Those who are eligible for diversion and who apply for a program in their county will generally have to fulfill certain court mandated requirements, such as community service and making restitution. Upon successful completion, the criminal charges will be dismissed.

When diversion is not an option, prosecutors have discretion to negotiate plea bargains. Plea bargains typically involve the accused pleading guilty in exchange for lesser charges or receiving a reduced sentence.

Learn more about diversion and pretrial options.

Getting Legal Help

To have the best possible outcome in a shoplifting case, it is in your best interest to consult with a qualified criminal defense lawyer. Your attorney can help you assess your options, including pursuing a diversion program, raising defenses, and negotiating plea bargains, in order to minimize the consequences of the charges.

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