Via Wikimedia Creative Commons by SF Bay Walk
By Louis Chan, AsAmNews National Correspondent
A bill intended to clearly define the difference between petty theft and a felony is being opposed by some out of fear it will lead to more anti-Asian incidents.
SB 82 would make it harder for prosecutors in California to elevate a petty theft to a felony,which the bill’s author, State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Oakland) says disproportionately happens to Black and Brown defendants.
Skinner says crimes such as the recent robbery of a 67-year-old Asian man shoved off a bench at a laundromat would remain classified as felonies under her bill.
“To the extent someone shoves a person off the bench, it elevates it to felony robbery and not under the category my bill is creating, Skinner said to AsAmNews. “A theft that has an element that includes intimidation rides above a simple shoplifting incident, but a felony charge should be restricted to someone committing felony robbery which includes violence and a weapon.”
A few hundred people showed up at a news conference Saturday to support the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce opposition to the bill. They argued that many of the recent crimes against Asians would be classified as petty theft under Skinner’s bill.
“If you were robbed and you got hurt with bruises and a black eye, that will be automatically not be a robbery, but would be petty theft,” Carl Chan, president of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce told AsAmNews. “People who do robbery without seriously hurting the victim, this would be a petty crime.”
Chan said he didn’t learn about SB 82 until Wednesday, but expressed surprised someone would introduce a bill like this during a rise in so many crimes against Asian Americans.
He says he has met with Skinner to express his concerns. He believe SB82 will have unintended consequences.
“If you look at most of the crimes happening, the people committing the crimes are committing crimes over and over and over again, Chan continued. “They commit more serious crimes, until one day they hurt people more seriously until one day they kill someone.”
Skinner sees a clear difference between someone committing a violent crime and someone who does not.
“Our current law, because it lacks clarity, allows prosecutors to charge someone with a felony who committed a simple theft. That charge should be restricted to someone committing felony robbery which includes violence and a weapon,” she said.
She called the recent crimes against Asian Americans “horrific,” particularly those preying on elderly people.
“I think its tragic to conflate the hate crimes and attacks on Asians with a bill that trying to create clarity and fairness in our penal code,” she said.
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The following is a legal analysis of SB82 and why it is ill advised non-withstanding the concerns raised by members of the AAPI communities.
Sen. Skinner fails to recognize that section 487(c) already exists and makes criminal non-violent theft of property from a person. such conduct can be punished either as a misdemeanor or as a felony at the discretion of the local DA. SB 82 would permit a thief to be charged with a misdemeanor if the perpetrator were successful in effecting a theft by verbal threat(s) alone. Current California law is defined in section 211 as: “Robbery is the felonious taking of personal property in the possession of another, from his person or immediate presence, and against his will, accomplished by means of force or fear.” The difference between felony robbery is the element of force and/or fear that causes the victim to relinquish his/her property rights and possession of their property. The use of a weapon or affirmatively causing bodily injury has never been an element of the offense.. The existence of Section 487(c) already on the books permits the DA to file a misdemeanor theft already. thus her SB82 adds nothing. A perpetrator who employs fear to commit theft from the person or immediate presence has committed a felony offense of robbery.
The reform that M. Skinner wishes to effect can be realized without needlessly de-criminalizing conduct which has been considered a felony since English common law and incorporated into he California penal code since 1872. She should request a review process whereby prior convictions whose record does not affirmatively support a factual finding of the use of force or fear be downgraded to the offense of theft from the person per Penal code section 487(c)