Shoplifting items valued at under $950 is a misdemeanor in California, but second offenses can be charged as felonies. If you are convicted of a shoplifting charge in California, the conviction remains on your record forever unless you get it dismissed or expunged.
Shoplifting Convictions in California
If you are caught shoplifting in California, you may be let off with only a warning. But if criminal charges are filed, the first offense is a misdemeanor if the value of the items taken is $950 or less. This is termed petty theft by larceny under the California Penal Code.
The prosecutor or district attorney must prove six elements to convict you of petty theft by larceny. They are:
- that you took property owned by someone else
- that the property was valued at $950 or less
- that you did not have the consent of the owner to take it
- that you intended to remove the property from the owner's possession
- that you moved the property, even if only a small amount
- that you kept the property for a period of time, even if only a brief period
If you are convicted of petty theft by larceny, the prosecutor has a lot of discretion in sentencing. You can be sent to jail for up to six months, be fined by the court, be required to repay the person you stole from and be given a restraining order to stay clear of the premises where you shoplifted. Some prosecutors allow a first-time petty theft defendant to complete a diversion program in order to avoid a criminal conviction.
If it is your second shoplifting offense, the prosecutor can charge you with a felony. You can get up to three years in prison for a felony conviction in California.
How Long Does a Theft Stay on Your Record?
A criminal record is not like a credit record where bad news – even serious bad news like a bankruptcy – slips off the charts after a certain number of years. If you are convicted of misdemeanor or felony petty theft, the conviction becomes part of your criminal record and is visible to anyone conducting a criminal background check. It stays on your record until you take action to dismiss or expunge the offense.
Under California law, you may be able to get misdemeanor charges dismissed even after conviction, and you may be able to get felony shoplifting charges reduced to misdemeanor charges and dismissed. Either of those situations can make you eligible to file a petition for expungement. See the Cleaning Your Record section of the California Courts Self-Help website.