Sacramento, CA – A recently-introduced bill in the California State Senate would reclassify robbery without a deadly weapon as petty theft and business owners are fighting back.
The proposed legislation is in line with criminal justice reforms that have been recommended by California’s Committee on Revision of the Penal Code (CRPC), a state panel made up of current and former lawmakers, judges, and academics, KTVU reported.
“Petty theft, like shoplifting, should never be treated as felony robbery,” California State Senator Nancy Skinner, who sponsored Senate Bill 82, said in a statement.
“California’s robbery statute hasn’t been updated since 1872. It’s time for us to make sure the punishment is proportionate to the crime committed,” Skinner said.
The proposed legislation would allow a robber to be charged with petty theft after beating a victim if the beating didn’t result in serious injuries, according to KTVU.
Under the existing law, a shoplifting suspect accused of having made a verbal threat during the incident, such as “give me your money or I’ll shoot you,” can be charged with robbery even if the suspect didn’t use physical force or a weapon, KTVU reported.
In another example, current law allows a shoplifting suspect to be charged with robbery if they bump into another customer or a security guard while fleeing the scene even if they don’t cause serious injury to their victim.
In order for injuries to be considered serious enough for a felony, generally there would need to be broken bones or organ damage.
Skinner’s office said the data showed that robbery charges were more likely when the suspect wasn’t white, KTVU reported.
The office also said that people having mental health meltdowns were also more likely to have their charges include “force” or “fear.”
SB 82 would create a new category of petty theft in the first degree for thefts under $950 that do involve physical force or threats but do not involve a deadly weapon or result in serious injury, KTVU reported.
Petty theft in the first degree would carry a penalty of up to one year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
Data showed that about 80 percent of incarcerated individuals were serving time that included sentence enhancements, KTVU reported.
Skinner’s office said that in many cases, the sentencing enhancements added more time to the person’s sentence than their actual crime.
Business owners are not happy about the proposed changes to the law, KNTV reported.
The Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce held an event to protest SB 82 on Saturday.
Chinatown’s business owners said they feared the proposed change would embolden criminals to target the Asian community, who are frequently the victims of petty theft and robbery in their businesses, KNTV reported.
“It’s only fair they would have to understand how this bill would affect not only the victims and the entire community when people are not feeling safe walking the streets and it’s so sad,” Carl Chan, of Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, said.
Skinner has said her legislation won’t change penalties for violent attacks, KNTV reported. Those attacks associated with petty theft would be charged as misdemeanors.
But Chan said it doesn’t take much for a petty theft to escalate into a violent altercation and the passage of SB 82 would expose business owners to much more risk.
“Even though they may be not so hurt, so called seriously mentally, they will be devastated for their whole life for that reason we are here united and sending a message strongly saying we don’t want this SB-82,” he explained.