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CA penal code 488/484...misdemeanor or infraction?

Salinas, CA |

My daughter was arrested with a friend for shoplifting. She had a $20 pair of shorts (on sale for $9.99) in her bag but her friend had much more. The citation list PC 488, misdemeanor, we latter received a correction and the new violation is PC 484(a). She has a court date in June, knows what she did was wrong and is ready to take resposibility for her poor choice in actions. She has never been in trouble, I do not want this to haunt her and be on her record. Should we hire an attorney or let her go to court and hope for the best?
Also, we received a letter from the stores attorney stating the value of merchandise was $43.99... the same amount listed on her friends letter. Is the amount of the damages they can collect based on the value of goods?

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Attorney answers 2


Penal code 484 defines theft, Penal Code section 488 defines petty theft. Often the two are written in combination (i.e. 488/484) or used interchangeably (incorrectly).

Petty theft is theft of goods under $400. There is a code section (Penal Code section 490.1) that can be charged for theft of goods with a value of $50 or less from a retailer. However, that is not automatic. It is in the prosecutor's discretion to charge the infraction (or to reduce the charge to an infraction).

The letter from the store's attorney brings up two issues:

1. The DA may decide that your daughter and the other girl were working together, making them each responsible for the total theft amount. If it can be shown that they each stole independently, then it keeps your daughter with the $10 theft. (Also - note that the value of an item in a retail theft is set at the sales price plus sales tax).

2. The letter is a "civil demand letter." It has no bearing on the criminal charges, so paying it doesn't guarantee anything except you can't be sued civilly for the cost of the theft & investigation. Also, paying the demand may be construed as an admission of guilt that could be used against your daughter.

You've got several things in play here. I would suggest you discuss this with a criminal defense attorney in your area. They can assist you with the demand letter, as well as with the criminal charges to hopefully get this off your daughter's criminal record. A theft conviction isn't something she wants to carry through life.


And sorry - to answer more directly your original question:

Petty theft is a misdemeanor. It can be an infraction under the circumstance I discussed above, but even theft of a dollar's worth of merchandise can be charged as a misdemeanor by the DA.

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