Californians seem to think changes in what constitutes “petty” theft has led to a rash of smash ‘n’ grabs because such behavior was not punishable or even criminal. The current hysteria is not based on history or fact.

The definition of petty theft in California has changed over the years as inflation accumulated. When I was first practicing law, the value was $200 or less. Later it was $400 or less. The current amount was set to reflect value based on inflation and return the crime to that level of offense it originally represented. The change did not occur last year nor even in the last decade. It was done by legislative action in 2010. In 2014 this was also the subject of Proposition 14, but the same limit was adopted. Since that time petty theft in California has in fact decreased (falling 29 percent in 2020!).

The recent smash-and-grab crimes would never have been petty theft in any event. Taking any amount of property by force or violence is prosecutable as a felony carrying a prison sentence. Entering into building with the intention to steal is burglary as well, also carrying a prison sentence. Thus if these smash-and-grab crimes are not being prosecuted as felonies, it is not the definition of petty theft that is at fault.

Those pushing for revision of the more enlightened and socially salutary changes enacted by Prop. 14 have other agendas. They include prison guard unions (incarceration is down), parole and probation officers (recidivism is down), prosecutors (crime is down), vindictive people who believe that punishment is a necessary part of a civilized society, as well as political opportunists who cynically adopt false but emotional agendas for their own personal advancement. They are offering AB1603 to advance their interests.

Californians, please stay rationale and support a society that pursues justice for all.


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