Shoplifting (CA Penal Code 484, 488, 459.5) is usually considered a pretty small-time crime in the state of California. If items totaling $950 or less, a petty theft charge (a misdemeanor) is levied and the accused individual may find themselves spending a maximum of 6 months in county jail and paying a fine of up to $1,000. The so-termed ‘Rainbow Girls’ are a different kind of shoplifter altogether, if what they do could still be considered shoplifting at all.
According to news reports, the ‘Rainbow Girls’ consist of well-organized groups of young women who steal from high-end retailers like Gucci, Armani, Chanel and others. Four or five of these girls enter a particular store at one time. They choose the merchandise that they want and then run out of the front door with it, before anyone has the chance to stop them and certainly before the police can make their way down to the scene. Allegedly, the ‘Rainbow Girls’ have taken $9,970 worth of Burberry scarves from a Stockton Street Neiman Marcus and $10,000 worth of various items from a Post Street Armani.
Retailers complain that even though at least 2 of the ‘Rainbow Girls’ have been arrested on more than one occasion, the penalties have been low, they spent about 2 weeks in jail, despite being convicted of both felonies and misdemeanors related to theft. Normally, cases like these would be considered ‘grand theft’ under California law, not ‘petty theft,’ as the total of valued goods taken amounted to more than the $950 mark. The fact remains, however, that even grand theft is a ‘wobbler,’ meaning that it is up to the prosecution to determine whether they will treat a particular instance of theft as a misdemeanor or as a felony. If convicted of misdemeanor grand theft, the penalty is usually a maximum of 1 year in county jail; however, a conviction for felony grand theft may mean up to 3 years in state prison.