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Name: People v. Colbert
Case #: S238954
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 01/24/2019

Entering an interior room that is objectively identifiable as off-limits to the public with intent to steal therefrom is not shoplifting, but instead remains punishable as burglary. Colbert filed petition under Proposition 47 to redesignate his felony burglary convictions as shoplifting misdemeanors. It was undisputed Colbert stole money from the back offices of convenience stores during business hours while his accomplice distracted the clerk at the register. The superior court denied the petition, concluding, inter alia, that each offense was based upon entry into a private office area, not a commercial establishment that was open during business hours. The Court of Appeal affirmed and the Supreme Court granted review to resolve a conflict in the Courts of Appeal. Held: Affirmed. Proposition 47 created the crime of misdemeanor shoplifting, which is defined as any act involving “entering a commercial establishment with intent to commit larceny while that establishment is open during regular business hours, where the value of the property taken or intended to be taken does not exceed [$950]. Any other entry into a commercial establishment with intent to commit larceny is burglary.” (Pen. Code, § 459.5.) Prior to Proposition 47, the act of shoplifting had been punishable as felony burglary. After analyzing section 459.5, the history of the burglary statute, and relevant case law, the Supreme Court concluded that Colbert’s conduct was not punishable as shoplifting but instead remained punishable as burglary. The burglary statute is designed to protect personal safety and the possessory interest of an owner/occupant in a particular space. These concerns are present when a person exceeds either the physical or temporal scope of his invitation to enter the premises. While the voters who passed Proposition 47 signaled that these interests do not apply in the same way when a person intends to steal property from a commercial establishment where he has been invited to peruse the goods and services, nothing indicates the voters intended to alter the burglary law’s protection for employees in off-limits interior rooms. [Editor’s Note: The court disapproved People v. Hallam (2016) 3 Cal.App.5th 905 insofar as it is inconsistent with the opinion in this case.]

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: