Shoplifting: What it is and How it’s Different From Other Forms of Theft

| Police Blotter | January 31, 2019

Recently in Stevenson Ranch, a suspect entered a business on the 24700 block of Pico Canyon Road, put two bottles of perfume into his backpack, and then left the store without paying. He was arrested shortly thereafter by deputies from the Santa Clarita Sheriff Station and charged with shoplifting.

Shoplifting is covered under California Penal Code 459.5 PC and is described as: “entering a commercial establishment with the intent to commit larceny (to steal something) while that establishment is open during regular business hours, where the value of the property that was taken or attempted to be taken is valued at no more than $950.” The law goes on to state that “any other attempt to enter a commercial establishment in order to commit larceny is burglary.”

The term “shoplifting” has been around for decades, if not longer. However, the actual crime of shoplifting has only been on the books in California for 4 years. Prior to the passage of Proposition 47 in 2014, shoplifting could have been prosecuted as burglary.
Burglary is covered under California Penal Code 459 PC and is described as entering any residential or commercial building or room with the intent to commit a felony. The reason shoplifting is no longer considered a type of burglary (even though the elements of the crime can be identical) is because in order to be charged with burglary, a person must enter the residential or commercial structure with the intent to commit a felony. Stealing something with a value of $950 or less is considered petty theft, which is a misdemeanor – not a felony. Therefore, since the crime of burglary requires someone to enter a residential/commercial structure with the intent of committing a felony, it would not apply when the crime committed by the suspect was a misdemeanor (petty theft).

If the value of the items stolen was over $950, or if the individual committed another felony while inside the structure (buying/selling controlled substances, for example), then it’s possible that they would be charged with burglary instead.

Shoplifting is also similar to, but not quite the same, as the crime of robbery. Under California Penal Code 211 PC, robbery is described as taking property from someone’s immediate person or presence, against that person’s will, by use of force or fear. Robbery is always charged as a felony regardless of the value of the item(s) stolen.


The difference between shoplifting from a business and robbing that business depends a lot on how the suspect gains possession of the stolen items. If someone slips a candy bar into their pocket and leaves without paying for it, it’s shoplifting. If a person slips a candy bar into their pocket, then grabs the clerk by the collar and threatens to kill them if they call the cops, it’s likely to be charged as robbery. In both scenarios, the merchandise taken was the same, and not worth much. The key difference was that during the robbery scenario, the merchandise was taken through the use of force or fear, whereas in the shoplifting scenario it was not.

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About Robin Sandoval

Robin Sandoval is a California Licensed Bail Bondsman and owner of SCV Bail Bonds. Robin writes blogs and articles to help increase community awareness of the bail industry. If you have questions or want to suggest a topic, email robin@scvbailbonds.com, visit www.scvbailbonds.com or call 661-299-2245.

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