Using Counterfeit Bills to Pay at a Store Can Be a Form of California PC 459.5 Shoplifting

Posted by Neil Shouse | Mar 30, 2016 | 0 Comments

If you use counterfeit money to pay for up to nine hundred fifty dollars ($950) worth of merchandise at a California store, you are guilty of shoplifting under PC 459.5, California's shoplifting law--and not of a more serious crime like PC 459 burglary.

Penal Code 459.5 PC, California's new shoplifting law, was created by Proposition 47. This law defined shoplifting as entering any commercial establishment, while it is open during its normal business hours, with the intent to steal items worth $950 or less.

At first there was some confusion about what "stealing items" meant: was it limited to what we normally think of as shoplifting (physically sneaking items out of the store)?

The California Court of Appeal recently answered that question in a case called People v. Valenzuela. The defendant in this case entered an AT&T store and purchased a prepaid cell phone for $250, using counterfeit bills. He pled guilty to burglary, which is defined as entering someone else's property in order to commit a felony or theft.

But then he filed for resentencing under Prop 47 after that law was passed--because Prop 47 carved out an exception to California's burglary law for people who enter an open business in order to commit petty theft. Under Prop 47, this becomes the lesser crime of Penal Code 459.5 shoplifting. 

The court held that Valenzuela's behavior does indeed fall under the new legal definition of California shoplifting. Even though using counterfeit money to pay for something is not what we normally think of when we hear word "shoplifting," it meets the definition of shoplifting set forth in PC 459.5. The result? Valenzuela's conviction can be reduced to the misdemeanor offense of shoplifting under Prop 47.

 The upshot of this is that the California crime of shoplifting is broader than some people had previously thought. This in turn means that more defendants will be charged with that crime rather than more serious crimes like burglary and forgery, and more defendants with felony convictions will be eligible to be re-sentenced under Prop 47 to the less serious crime of shoplifting.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

Southern California DUI Defense attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT).


There are no comments for this post. Be the first and Add your Comment below.

Leave a Comment

Free attorney consultations...

Our attorneys want to hear your side of the story. Contact us 24/7 to schedule a FREE consultation with a criminal defense lawyer. We may be able to get your charges reduced or even dismissed altogether. And if necessary, we will champion your case all the way to trial.

Office Locations

Shouse Law Group has multiple locations all across California, Nevada, and Colorado. Click Office Locations to find out which office is right for you.

Regain peace of mind...

Our defense attorneys understand that being accused of a crime is one of the most difficult times of your life. Rely on us to zealously and discreetly protect your rights and to fight for the most favorable resolution possible.

To contact us, please select your state:

Call us 24/7 (855) 396-0370