Under California law petty theft is the taking of property of another valued at less than $950. A first offense is chargeable as a misdemeanor and carries a maximum sentence of six months in county jail. Commercial burglary in California is defined as entering any structure other than a residence with the intent to commit a crime therein. Commercial burglary is a “wobbler” under California which means that it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony and can carry up to a maximum of three years in state prison.
Many people are surprised when they are detained for what they believed to be petty theft and are arrested for and charged with commercial burglary. The difference between the two crimes has everything to do with whether the person intended to commit a crime or theft when they entered the building. If they did, then they are technically guilty of commercial burglary. How do you prove what somebody intended when they walked into a store? Police and store Loss Prevention Officers are trained to ask questions to determine whether the person accused of these types of crimes had planned to steal before they entered the store. Other facts such as whether the alleged thief had money in their possession can also play a role in how the prosecutor decides to charge the case.
So, what do you do if you are detained for suspicion of shoplifting in California? The best advice is to invoke your Miranda rights, make no statements, and contact the competent attorneys at Wallin & Klarich immediately.