Post falsely claims shoplifting goods worth less than $900 not a crime in California

A social media post recently claimed that “shoplifting is not a crime until it reaches a threshold of $900” in “liberal” US states like California. But the claim is false: the US state’s criminal codes show shoplifting is treated as a misdemeanour punishable by up to six months in a county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Repeat offenders face more severe punishment as the crime could be treated as a felony.

“In many US States run by liberals, e.g. California, shoplifting is not a crime until it reaches a threshold of $900. If you have a store, anyone can walk in, take an item worth $500 and walk out. Don’t bother calling the police,” reads a post shared on X on June 26, 2024.

A screenshot of the false claim, taken on June 27, 2024

Reposted more than 720 times, the post was shared by Nigerian author Kalu Aja based in France. 

The post features a 45-second clip showing a man with a face covering ransacking shelves in a store. Another man can be heard telling him not to steal from the store. The would-be thief gets pinned down and flogged by the store attendants.

Several US companies have closed stores in major cities as organised retail theft continues to eat into profits. 

American retailer Target announced last September that it was shutting down nine outlets as “theft and organised retail crime” threatened staff safety (archived here).

A 2023 survey by the National Retail Federation showed that American stores lost around $112 billion dollars in 2022 through shrinkage, with theft being the prime driver. The loss was estimated to be $94 billion the previous year (archived here). 

However, the claim that stealing items worth less than $900 is not a crime in California is false.


Contrary to the claim in the post, shoplifting is deemed a crime in California.

According to the American state’s penal code, the definition of shoplifting applies to stolen goods with a maximum value of $950. 

Section 459.5 of the California penal code states that shoplifting is “punished as a misdemeanor” (archived here). This implies that if the value of the stolen goods exceeds $950, the suspect may be tried for burglary instead.

According to Proposition 47 approved by voters in November 2014, some non-violent property crimes, including shoplifting, and “some simple drug possession offenses” are to be punished as misdemeanours (archived here).

Proposition 47 was a referendum in California aimed at channelling prison spending on “the most violent and serious offences,” maximising the alternative punitive measures for nonserious and non-violent crimes and diverting the savings into “community prevention programmes”.

The punishment for shoplifting can include a prison term up to six months in a county jail and a fine of up to $1,000 (archived here).

The section further states a person can be charged with a felony for shoplifting if they have “one or more prior convictions for an offence”. For example, a shoplifter who has one or more convictions for committing any sex offence or violent crime can be tried for a felony for shoplifting.

Store robbery

Meanwhile, US media including CBS News and the New York Post reported that the footage shows attendants at a 7-Eleven convenience store in Stockton, California, fighting back a thief on July 29, 2023 (archived here and here).

Numerous news outlets like ABC10 published stories featuring the video on their social media channels (archived here).

According to the reports, the incidents occurred across the road from the Stockton Police Department’s headquarters.

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