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California Looting Laws – California Penal Code 463 PC

Looting laws
If you have been arrested for looting in California, you are facing serious legal consequences.

When a state of emergency is declared because of a natural disaster like an earthquake, flood, or wildfire, or because of a manmade situation, such as a riot, certain crimes can be charged under California looting laws. In fact, during an emergency, the crimes of petty theft, burglary, grand theft or grand theft of a firearm can all be charged as violations of California Penal Code Section 463, a harsh law with serious penalties.

Examples of Looting under PC 463

A person could be charged with looting in the following situations:

A city in California is in crisis following a strong earthquake. You decide to go into the city and see that people are carrying out supplies and items from several different stores that were heavily damaged. You run into one of the stores and grab several digital cameras, iPods, and game systems to sell later. Under these facts, you could be prosecuted for violating California looting laws pursuant to California Penal Code 463.

A riot has broken out in the city. You notice that the windows and doors are busted out of a fine art gallery so you run in and steal two small paintings to sell on the black market. Under these facts, you could be prosecuted for violating California looting laws pursuant to California Penal Code 463.

A wildfire has forced the evacuation of a large community. As you are heading out of town you stop at the grocery store to get supplies. As you enter, you see the store is in chaos, with people running out the doors with supplies. You grab a few cases of beer and cartons of cigarettes and leave without paying. Under these facts, you could be prosecuted for violating California looting laws pursuant to California Penal Code 463.

Related Offenses

Other related offenses that may be charged in addition to looting include:

Criminal Trespass

California Penal Code Section 602.1 Also known as malicious mischief, PC 602 makes taking, damaging, or injuring the property of another a misdemeanor crime.


California Penal Code 594.2 Vandalism occurs when you deface, damage, or destroy the real or personal property of another. Vandalism can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the value of the property.

Participating in a Riot

California Penal Code Section 405 3 A riot occurs when two or more people threaten to use force or violence against others to disturb the peace. Participating in a riot is a misdemeanor offense that carries a fine of up to $1,000 and a county jail sentence of up to 364 days (See also: inciting a riot).

Prosecution of Looting – California Penal Code 463

prosecution - California looting laws
In order to convict you of violating California looting laws, the prosecution must prove several elements beyond a reasonable doubt.

In order for you to be convicted of violating California’s looting laws under California Penal Code 463, the prosecution must prove all of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. You committed burglary or theft under California Penal Codes 459 and 484;4
  2. When you committed the alleged acts, you intended to commit burglary or theft; AND
  3. You acted during and within an affected county in a “state of emergency” or a “local emergency” resulting from an earthquake, fire, flood, riot, or other natural or manmade disaster.

In order to prove the element of burglary, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the following:

  1. You entered a building or locked vehicle; AND
  2. When you entered the building or vehicle, you intended to commit theft or one or more felonies.

In order to prove the element of theft, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the following:

  1. You took possession of property owned by someone else;
  2. You took the property without the owner’s consent;
  3. When you took the property, you intended to deprive the owner of it permanently or to remove it from the owner’s possession for an extended period of time; AND
  4. You moved the property, even a small distance, and kept it for any period of time, however brief.

Punishment for Violating California Looting Laws

punishment for violating California looting laws
If you are convicted for violating California looting laws, you could be sentenced to up to 3 years in state prison.

Looting can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the specific circumstances of the case and whether you have a criminal history. If you are convicted of violating looting laws under California Penal Code 463, the following potential punishments may apply:

  • Looting by petty theft is a misdemeanor crime that carries a minimum of 90 days in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
  • Looting by burglary or grand theft are wobbler crimes in California, meaning you can be charged with a felony or misdemeanor. The maximum sentence for a misdemeanor conviction is 364 days in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. A felony conviction results in a sentence of 16 months, two or three years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
  • Looting by grand theft of a firearm is a felony offense that carries a sentence of 16 months, two or three years in county jail and a fine of up to $10,000.

Possible Defenses to Looting Charges

You did not have intent. One defense to a charge of looting is that you did not intend to loot. For example, if you were caught inside of business that had been vandalized during an emergency, it doesn’t mean you intended to burglarize the business.

Mistaken identity. During an emergency situation, it is relatively easy for an officer to mistake the identity of a possible looter. A skilled attorney can argue that you were not the person who committed the alleged act of looting.

You acted in good faith. If, during an emergency, you committed theft or burglary in good faith, you should not be convicted of the crime of looting. For example, if you took supplies from a hardware store to save a dog or a child from a burning vehicle or took medical supplies from a pharmacy to treat your wounds or another’s wounds caused by events surrounding the emergency situation.

Frequently Asked Questions on Looting Laws under California Penal Code 463

My neighborhood was being evacuated during a wildfire and I took some supplies from my neighbor’s yard. Can I be convicted of violating California looting laws?

Possibly. However, a skilled attorney can argue that you did not intend to commit theft and you planned on returning the items to the original owner.

I was arrested for violating looting laws during a riot after a witness told police I stole a stereo from an electronics store. I was at the scene of the riot, but I never left the street or went into any buildings. Can a criminal defense attorney help me? 

Yes. You need to speak to a criminal defense attorney immediately. Cases of mistaken identity can be complex and there is no guarantee that the police will find the real offender. A skilled attorney may be able to help you prove that you were not involved in the alleged criminal acts.

My friend was seriously injured during an earthquake and help couldn’t get to us. I broke into a pharmacy and stole bandages and a first aid kit to try to treat my friend. Can I be convicted of looting?

Acting in good faith is a valid defense to the charges of looting. If you burglarized the pharmacy to help your injured friend, you should not be convicted of looting. Speak to an attorney right away about the charges you are facing.

Can the National Guard arrest me for looting?

Under Title 32 of the US Code, the Guard has the authority to support domestic law enforcement, but it does not have arrest and detention powers.

Can I shoot a looter in California?

California has a law called the Castle Doctrine (CA Penal Code Section 198.5) which allows the use of deadly force if someone forces or breaks their way into their house unlawfully. However, the homeowner must fear imminent death or great bodily injury towards themselves or their family in order to justify deadly force.

Is looting protected by the 1st Amendment?


Have You Been Charged with Violating California Looting Laws? Call Wallin & Klarich Today

partners 2015 - california looting laws
The attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have been defending those facing charges for violating California looting laws for over 30 years.

If you or a loved one has been charged with looting in California, it is crucial that you contact a Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney immediately. Our skilled attorneys have over 38 years of experience successfully defending those facing burglary, theft, and looting charges. We can help you, too.

With offices located in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available to help you no matter where you work or live.

Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will get through this together.

1. http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=PEN§ionNum=602

2. http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=PEN§ionNum=594

3. http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=PEN§ionNum=405

4. http://www.courts.ca.gov/partners/documents/calcrim_juryins.pdf

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