An initiative measure (Initiative No. 21-0041A1) has been proposed to address the unprecedented surge in retail theft in California. The approach is simple and straightforward. By reinstituting three versions of previously existing criminal justice laws, we can restore an appropriate level of accountability for serial thieves and repeat offenders

Addressing repeat offenders of theft

The initiative proposes to add Section 666.1 to the Penal Code to authorize felony offenses for serial thieves and repeat offenders.  Any person, who commits petty theft or shoplifting and who has been previously convicted of two or more prior theft crimes, can be sentenced up to three years in county jail, at the discretion of a judge. In 2014, Proposition 47 eliminated a similar sentence enhancement for serial thieves which had existed in the law for over 100 years. Proposition 47 treats petty theft and shoplifting (an amount under $950) as a misdemeanor, no matter how many times a person has been convicted of such theft crimes.

Addressing property damage and destruction committed during theft

Penal Code Section 12022.6 will also be re-enacted through the initiative. Section 12022.6 was first enacted in 1977, providing for sentencing enhancements for any person that took, damaged, or destroyed excessive amounts of property during the commission (or attempted commission) of a felony. In 1990, this law was given a sunset provision (meaning it would expire at a predetermined date unless re-enacted). The law expired on January 1, 2018. Later that year, the Legislature unanimously voted to reinstitute the law with AB 1511 (Low), but then-Governor Brown vetoed the bill. Thus, under current law, a person convicted of stealing property or causing damage valued at $1,000 and over $1 million is treated the same. The initiative would allow for the additional incarceration where the value of the items stolen, or the damage done during the commission of the crime is significant (e.g. if the value is $50,000 or more, an additional year in jail can be added to the sentence). So-called “smash and grab” thefts typically cause significant property damage in addition to the items stolen. 

Multiple or Cross-county prosecutions

Finally, the initiative will also bring back former Penal Code Section 786.5. Section 786.5, which expired on July 1, 2021, authorized any District Attorney from any county where any portion of the planning, instigating, procuring, promoting, or aiding in the commission of the theft occurred to prosecute such crimes. For example, if a series of thefts occur in San Francisco and a neighboring county, the District Attorney in either county can prosecute all the thefts together. 

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