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Posted by Vitaly Sigal | May 12, 2011 | 0 Comments

As a Los Angeles theft defense lawyer, one of the most common cases that I see is when a client retains me to represent him or her in a criminal theft case resulting from a shoplifting incident.

While these types of cases have relatively lower exposure to punishment than other more serious criminal offenses, they can lead to consequences for a client that will be felt for a long time to come. That is why I treat a shoplifting theft case with the same care and the same aggressive approach as I would any other criminal case. Because I know that my client's future is affected by how I handle their situation.

In this blog I will discuss certain issues that I have seen arise in shoplifting cases. Every criminal case is unique however and only an experienced criminal lawyer who has knowledge of the facts of your particular case can properly advise you.

Of course the best advice I can give you about shoplifting is not to do it! Then, on the other hand if you didn't shoplift and didn't get caught, you probably wouldn't be reading this blog, so I will go on and give you more advice if that is in fact the situation.

There are several parts of a criminal case that will affect the outcome. For the purpose of this blog, I will break them down into those sections and explain the proper approach during these important stages in a criminal petty theft shoplifting case.


Most people who are arrested for shoplifting and charged with a crime are caught in a major department or retail store. These stores usually have a full time staff of security personnel and cameras covering just about every square inch of the store. Many times they employ these personnel to act as shoppers to observe people they suspect of committing a theft crime.

Generally, the security personnel will wait until a person has exited the store and will apprehend them as soon as they are outside. At this point they will approach a person and ask them to come to a back office with them.

When they take you to the back, they will try to get you to give a statement, many times in written form, admitting to the crime. They will even make it seem like they will not call the police and criminal charges will not be filed if you do so. Don't be fooled into making a statement! Say nothing and exercise your right to remain silent. If they tell you they won't file charges, they are lying to you, their entire job consists of catching shoplifters and by catching you they just made their day. They will not let you go no matter what and they will call the police no matter what. Please do yourself and your criminal lawyer a favor and don't make a statement to anyone about anything. Defending your case in criminal court will be much easier if you take this advice.

When the police do come, they will usually issue you a citation which looks a lot like a traffic ticket and let you go without taking you to the police station. I have however seen instances when they arrest a person, take them to the police station and even require a bail to release a person who is accused of a shoplifting theft crime. Every police agency has their own policies, but most people are released with a citation and a court date.


You will usually have some time between the arrest and the court date. Some times this can be several weeks and sometimes about a month. This is the time to act!

There are many programs for people accused of a shoplifting crime available in the various criminal courts and with criminal prosecutors that can be done in lieu of having a criminal case in the court, especially if it is a first time arrest. Even people who have had prior arrests have been able to take advantage of these programs with the help of an experienced criminal lawyer.

I have been able to get my clients criminal shoplifting cases dismissed after a brief meeting with the prosecutor. I have also been able to arrange my clients' participation in an alternative program and they avoided criminal prosecution.

The main thing this requires is some leg work by a criminal lawyer and some time. That is why the earlier that you call a criminal lawyer who will work the system and try to avoid having a criminal case filed against you, the better your chances.


If the alternatives noted above are not available in a particular case and a criminal case is filed against a person, there are several charges that may be filed. The three main charges are as follows:

  • Petty Theft: For any theft where the amount taken is less than $950
  • Grand Theft: For any theft where the amount taken is more than $950. Please note that this may also be filed as a felony crime and will then have much more serious consequences than a standard petty theft.
  • Burglary: The crime of Burglary can be charged if the prosecution has evidence to show that a person had the intent to commit a theft crime when they entered a building. For instance if a person is caught shoplifting and they are discovered to possess tools to remove a security tag, they can charged with the crime of burglary since that is circumstantial evidence that can be used to show the person intended to commit a theft crime when they entered.

Whatever the criminal charge, they key to a good outcome in a criminal theft case arising out of a shoplifting is the proper handling of that criminal case by an experience criminal lawyer. Many times we have been able to get our clients criminal cases dismissed or lowered to an infraction in a petty theft prosecution.


The California Penal Code establishes the maximum punishments for a criminal theft crime resulting from shoplifting. If it is filed in the criminal court a misdemeanor crime, then the maximum sentence is six months in the county jail. For a felony the sentence is longer and it is also longer of it is filed as a criminal felony.

Having said that, a criminal lawyer will help you avoid doing any time at all, if that criminal lawyer handles your case properly. I have successfully handled countless petty theft cases and have achieved amazing results for my clients. There are many sentencing alternatives such as diversion or getting the charge reduced in criminal court. No matter what stage you case is in, your next call should be to a criminal lawyer who will help guide you through the system and achieve great results on your criminal theft case. FOR A FREE NO HASSLE CONSULTATION CALL US  AT 818 325-0570 OR CONTACT US HERE

About the Author

Vitaly Sigal

Vitaly Sigal Sigal Law Group Owner 355 S. Grand Ave, Suite 2450 Los Angeles, CA 90071 (213) 620-0212 Vitaly Sigal has extensive trial experience and is not afraid to take your case to trial if necessary. From straightforward to complex litigation, Mr. Sigal handles every case with the same i...


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