You may have heard of people being hit with California felony penalties for shoplifting items from a store–and may have wondered if this can really happen.
The quick answer is: it is possible for someone to be charged with a felony for shoplifting. But it is now more difficult for prosecutors to charge a shoplifter with a felony than it used to be.
In 2014, California voters passed Proposition 47, which reduced the penalties for some minor drug and property crimes and went into effect in 2015.
Before Prop 47, people who shoplifted could technically be charged with California burglary, which can carry felony penalties. Burglary is defined as entering any building (including a store) with the intent to commit any theft or felony once inside. Technically, most premeditated shoplifting meets this definition.
But Prop 47 created a new crime called Penal Code 459.5 PC shoplifting. Under PC 459.5, people who enter an open store during normal business hours intending to steal merchandise worth $950 or less are guilty of shoplifting–and may NOT be charged with burglary. The new crime of PC 459.5 shoplifting is a misdemeanor for everyone who is not a registered sex offender and does not have certain very serious violent crimes on their record.
What this means is that, for most people, shoplifting can only be charged as a misdemeanor going forward. But there are situations in which it could be a felony, including:
- The defendant was charged and convicted before Prop 47 went into effect;
- The defendant stole, or intended to steal, merchandise worth more than $950 (in which case s/he may have been charged with either burglary or grand theft); and
- The defendant has a serious violent or sex crime prior on his/her record.