Shoplifting, also known as petty theft or grand theft, is defined in California as the taking and carrying away of merchandise from a store or business establishment, without the owner's consent, and with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property. This crime can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony and is prosecuted under California Penal Code sections 484, 487 and 488. If the value of the property involved in the theft is $950 or less, it is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in county jail plus a fine and three years of informal probation.

First-time petty theft offenders are not looking at county jail time unless they have a prior theft-related conviction or other criminal history. If the value of the property is over $950, then the crime can be charged as felony grand theft, punishable by 16 months to three years in state prison. With the new sentencing law effective October 1, 2011, that state prison sentence could potentially be served in the county jail.

Theft convictions in California are serious and should be handled by an experienced criminal defense attorney with a successful track record. Employers today are conducting extensive background checks on prospective employees. Employers often consider a theft conviction from shoplifting to be a serious dishonest act and a character flaw justifying rejecting employment. Consult with a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer before you speak with store security personnel or law enforcement.

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