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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 the 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
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.