Los Angeles Shoplifting Attorney
California law defines theft offenses as unlawfully and intentionally taking property that does not belong to you. Under state statutes, petty theft is further defined as stealing of property valued at less than $950. Although the act is more commonly described as shoplifting, petty theft can encompass a broad range of crimes, including taking goods from a clothing store, paying for a handful of items and not the one at the bottom of your cart, or dining and dashing.
A conviction for petty theft may seem minor, but even being accused of the offense has the potential to cause a ripple effect that disrupts every aspect of your life. These consequences you face for this offense make obtaining representation of a knowledgeable shoplifting attorney extremely important.
Petty Theft Under California Law
Under California Penal Code (PC) 484(a) and 488, petty theft is defined as the unlawful taking of property valued at less than $950. To be convicted of this offense, the prosecution needs to prove that you:
- Stole property belonging to another person or business without permission
- Took the material intending to keep it from its rightful owner permanently, or long enough so they would miss out on its use
- Moved the property any distance away from its lawful owner for any amount of time
There are a number of offenses that fall under the umbrella of petty theft, including:
- Theft by Trick – You can be found guilty of this offense is you lied to someone about why you wished to possess the property you allegedly stole. For example, if you asked to borrow your cousin’s car to “get to a doctor’s appointment,” but instead took it on a road trip to a nearby destination, you could be charged with this offense.
- Theft by Embezzlement – This offense usually entails illegally transferring ownership of property that been assigned to another. Typically considered a white-collar crime, theft by embezzlement normally involves those in positions of authority stealing from accounts to which they have access.
- Theft by Fraud – If you lie to someone in an attempt to deprive them of their property, you can be charged with theft by fraud. An example of this offense is raising funds for a charity you have no connections with, and pocketing the money people give you for yourself.
It is important to note that the above offenses can only be charged as petty theft as long as the value of the property stolen does not exceed $950.
Petty Theft Penalties
Under California law, petty theft is considered a misdemeanor. If you’re found guilty of this offense, you face the following statutory penalties:
- Up to six months in county jail
- Fines reaching $1,000
If you’re facing a first offense for petty theft or the value of the property you stole was $50 or less, your attorney may be able to argue your charge down to an infraction and possibly complete a diversion program as opposed to jail time and fines. If you’re found to have committed this offense, you could face:
- A fine of no more than $250
If you have, however, been convicted of petty theft in the past, your current charge is considered a “wobbler.” This means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. If it’s considered a felony, you face:
- Three years in prison
In addition to jail time and fines, a criminal conviction can have a great effect on your life in many other ways. With a petty theft conviction on your record, you may face difficulty getting into college, obtaining/maintaining employment, obtaining financial aid for school, and more. That is why it is important to contact a Los Angeles petty theft attorney if you’re facing petty theft charges.
Defenses Against Shoplifting
Like many other offenses, a conviction in a petty theft case relies on the willful intention to commit the crime. Some legal defenses that may be used to fight petty theft charges include:
- Lack of Intent – In some cases, you may not have meant to take property that didn’t belong to you. Perhaps you were distracted or absentmindedly shopping and left the store carrying items you did not pay for. This argument will likely necessitate counsel from a petty theft lawyer, as evidence that you lacked intent can be hard to back up.
- You Believed You Had the Owner’s Consent – If you had consent from the owner to take their belongings, you could use this as a defense in a petty theft case. For example, say your boss gives you permission to take her TV but does not specify how long you can keep it. She may later raise petty theft allegations against you, but your attorney could argue that you reasonably believed you had her consent to keep the television.
- You Thought the Property Belonged to You – Many times, people mistakenly take things that they reasonably believe belong to them. Perhaps your friend gave you his old bike, but did not put the transfer of ownership in writing. Months later, you two get into a fight and he demands the bike back. In this case, if petty theft allegations are raised against you, your lawyer could argue that you had believed the bike belonged to you.
- False Accusations – Being falsely accused of petty theft happens more often than one might think. If an experienced shoplifter wants to cause a diversion to draw attention away from their actions while they make off with stolen items, they may sneak merchandise into your bag so the security alarm will sound when you leave. As you explain yourself to the manager, he may take the price sticker off the items he intends to steal and slips away. In this situation, you could argue being falsely accused of petty theft.
Though all of these defenses could be used to combat petty theft charges, you will need a shoplifting attorney to successfully prove your innocence. To learn more about defenses to petty theft allegations, call our firm today.
How a Los Angeles Shoplifting Attorney Can Help
Charges of petty theft should not derail your life. The counsel of an experienced petty theft lawyer from Spolin Law P.C. could mean the difference between reducing your charges to an infraction or accepting a felony conviction. For a free consultation regarding your case, contact us today at (310) 424-5816.