When voters approved California Proposition 47 in 2014, several nonviolent felonies were reclassified as misdemeanors. Shoplifting goods worth $950 or less was one of those crimes. Shortly after the changes went into effect, media outlets began publishing and airing stories about individuals walking out of stores with their arms filled with merchandise. This led the public to believe that California was in the midst of a shoplifting epidemic, but police departments and district attorney’s offices were far more worried about a different form of retail theft.
Organized retail theft
Shoplifting was reclassified as a misdemeanor in California because it is a nonviolent offense that is often committed by individuals who cannot afford items they desperately need. Voters had good intentions when they supported Proposition 47, but organized retail theft gangs have taken advantage of the new legal landscape to make millions of dollars selling stolen goods. These criminal organizations send people into stores to shoplift goods worth less than $950, and then they sell the stolen items on the street or on websites like eBay, Amazon and Facebook Marketplace.
Combating organized retail theft
Organized retail theft is a nationwide problem, and Congress took action to tackle it in 2022 when it passed the Integrity, Notification, and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces for Consumers Act. The INFORM Act requires online marketplaces to collect far more data about their high-volume sellers, and companies that do not provide the required information can be fined more than $50,000 for each violation. On the local level, police departments are placing undercover units outside popular stores that loss prevention officers can contact by text message when they spot shoplifters. The shoplifters arrested by undercover units in California are unlikely to spend time behind bars, but they could provide law enforcement with information about the criminal organizations they work for.
A good defense is key
Unfortunately with the media hype, community alerts and law enforcement hyper-vigilance, the situation can lead to numerous questionable arrests. Individuals who are arrested or charged with a crime should immediately seek experienced legal guidance. A skilled criminal defense attorney can carefully review your charges and build an efficient strategy uniquely tailored to your circumstances. Do not hesitate to seek help.