California theft law changed significantly following the coming into force of Proposition 47, which introduced new regulations on the classification of theft related offences.
The law reclassified what theft crimes constitutes a felony or misdemeanor, primarily setting threshold on the monetary value on a stolen item to qualify the offence as a misdemeanor or felony and in some cases, removing the discretionary powers granted prosecutors and juries on when to charge a suspect with misdemeanor or felony for theft crimes.
The California theft law also gives people already serving time or previously served time to apply for resentencing using the new guidelines and having their criminal records changed to reflect the new rules.
13 months following the introduction of the new law, over 200,000 applications had been received for resentencing.
California $950 theft law
Proposition 47 added Penal Code section 459.5 to create a new misdemeanor offense called “shoplifting”. According to the code, a person has committed the crime of shoplifting if the shoplifter steals items or property valuing up to $950.
Any other entry into a commercial establishment with intent to commit larceny is burglary, a felony. No person charged with shoplifting may also be charged with burglary or theft of the same property.
How much can you steal in California without going to jail?
Petty theft and shoplifting of any amount not exceeding $950 is classified as a misdemeanor and offenders could face up to 6 months in county jail if found guilty. With a good lawyer and clean history, offenders could avoid jail time with a restitution, probation or fine.
California Forgery Law
Before Proposition 47, forgery under Penal Code section 473 was a wobbler offense, meaning prosecutors could choose to charge suspect with felony or misdemeanor usually depending on offender’s criminal history. Proposition 47 reclassified forgery of specific items involving $950 or less as strictly a misdemeanor. Persons previously convicted of both forgery and identity theft are exempt from this provision.
California Shoplifting law
Proposition 47 expressly defined petty theft as “obtaining any property by theft where the value of the money, labor, real or personal property taken” does not exceed $950.
Effectively, Shoplifting and Petty theft is now classified as misdemeanor under California theft laws and carries a sentence including restitution, probation and up to 6 months in jail.
California law on Receiving Stolen Property
Prior to the introduction of Proposition 47, it was at the sole discretion of prosecutors or jury to decide whether a suspect faces felony or misdemeanor charges for receiving a stolen property not exceeding $950. Proposition 47 changed that, classifying all the offences falling under this definition as strictly misdemeanors.
The new California theft laws also removed the offence of petty theft with prior history except for a certain category of persons including:
- persons required to register as a Sex Offender by law
- persons with prior violent or serious felony convictions
- persons convicted of specified theft crimes involving elder or dependent adults
California Laws on theft of company funds
Theft of company funds is a crime punishable under Penal code 503 which is the California Law on Embezzlement. PC 503 defines embezzlement as the fraudulent appropriation of property by a person the said property has been entrusted to.
Theft of company funds according to the California Penal Code is classified as a misdemeanor if the amount or value of stolen property does not exceed $950. Theft exceeding $950 in value is classified as a felony.
Punishment for embezzlement in California
The punishment for a conviction of embezzlement is dependent on the classification of the crime; whether a misdemeanor or a felony.
- Misdemeanor – up to six months in county jail and fines
- Felony – One to three years in prison and fines
Examples of embezzlement
- Store manager stealing funds for personal use and understating sales
- Accountant stealing company funds for personal use and cooking the books to cover up
- Fund manager using client’s money to settle personal debts
- Company manager fraudulently changing company vehicle registration details to theirs for personal use.
Defending an embezzlement charge
For an embezzlement charge to stick, prosecutors must prove the following: that,
- defendant fraudulently used appropriated money
- defendant’s intent was to deprive owner of what is legally theirs
- defendant acted in bad faith by fraudulently appropriating property.
Is stealing legal in California?
The straight answer is No. Many have misconstrued the provisions of Proposition 47 as California’s way of saying stealing is Okay, but that’s far from the fact and spirit of the California theft law.
The law simply reclassified what is considered as petty theft in society as a misdemeanor, not a felony, meaning people convicted of stealing up to $950 doesn’t necessarily have to go to jail or prison.
Certainly, that does not validate stealing. Stealing in California is not legal and those caught defaulting the California $950 theft law will not be left off the hook.
The introduction of the new California shoplifting laws, also known as the California $950 theft law has been misconstrued by many to be a de-facto approval of shoplifting and petty theft in the state.
In fact, what the new law did was to reclassify petty theft as a misdemeanor instead of a felony. This can be seen as an ease of the punishment potential violators will face, but certainly not a free pass for shoplifters.