D.A. Speaks Out Against SB-82

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

August 12, 2021

The local district attorney is calling for an end to a controversial bill that would change some serious violent crimes to misdemeanors, this following the strong-armed robbery of former U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer.

SLO County D.A. Dan Dow on July 28 reacted to the assault and robbery of 80-year-old Boxer in Oakland on July 26, wherein a thug in a mask accosted her on the street, shoved her in the back, yanked the cell phone out of her hands and fled in a waiting car. Boxer reportedly begged her attacker not to hurt her and asked him, “How can you do this to a grandmother?”

Oakland police are reportedly hunting for the scoundrel but no arrest has been announced.

Boxer’s assault and robbery was just one of numerous recent brazen attacks of defenseless elderly people, including numerous attacks of elderly Asian men and women that have been committed — many caught on surveillance video — across the nation.

“There was nothing ‘petty’ about what happened to former U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer yesterday,” Dow said in a news release, “it was a violent robbery, and it was awful. This crime occurred in broad daylight in Oakland’s Jack London District, a popular tourist destination that also happens to be in the California Senate District of Sen. Nancy Skinner. The same Senator who proposed declaring such horrific crimes to be misdemeanor petty thefts under SB-82.”

Dow noted that Boxer is “an 80-year-old grandmother” and while she wasn’t hurt in the incident, which garnered press coverage across the nation, and she is a famous and prominent figure, “there are countless other lesser-known victims who have endured similar attacks. To be clear, all these victims were subjected to a violent crime, and it would be a terrible insult to minimize their trauma by calling it misdemeanor petty theft — a low-level offense that is eligible for diversion. Recent reforms have gone too far; it is time to withdraw SB-82. This is a reckless proposal that only encourages lawlessness.”

SB-82, the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act,” was introduced in December 2020 by Sen. Skinner, and is purported to be enacting legislation for 2014’s Proposition 47, which, “requires the theft of money, labor, or property to be considered petty theft, punishable as a misdemeanor by up to 6 months in county jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both, whenever the value of the property taken does not exceed $950 or in other cases that are specifically defined as grand theft,” according to the Legislative Council’s report on the bill. 

Further, “The bill would specifically exclude from the crime of petty theft in the first degree acting in concert with one or more persons to steal merchandise from one or more merchant’s premises or online marketplace with the intent to sell, exchange, or return the merchandise for value. 

“The bill would define the crime of petty theft in the 2nd degree as all other petty theft. The bill would impose a penalty of imprisonment in county jail for up to one year, a $1,000 fine, or both, for petty theft in the first degree and would prohibit an act of petty theft from being charged as robbery or burglary. By creating a new crime, this bill would impose a state-mandated local program.”

It’s also a “get out of jail free” card of sorts for already convicted criminals. “This bill,” the Legislative Counsel’s report continues, “would provide a means of vacating the sentence of, and resentencing, a currently incarcerated defendant who had been convicted of robbery, who was sentenced under an alternative sentencing scheme based on one or more prior convictions for robbery, or whose sentence includes an enhancement based on one or more prior convictions for robbery and who would not be convicted of robbery based on the changes made in this bill.

“The bill would also provide a means of vacating the sentence of, and resentencing, a person who had previously served a term of imprisonment for robbery and who would not be convicted of robbery based on the changes made in this bill. By requiring the participation of district attorneys and public defenders in the resentencing process, this bill would impose a state-mandated local program.”

SB-82 rewrites Penal Code 486 (the main theft law) and divides the act of theft into three degrees of severity — grand theft, and petty theft in the first and second degree.

Under a rewritten PC 488 (the petty theft law), would change to taking property “from the person of another or from a commercial establishment by means of force or fear without the use of a deadly weapon or causing great bodily injury,” according to the Legislative Counsel’s report.

The bill prevents changing 1st degree petty theft into a burglary or robbery charge.

Petty theft in the second degree would be defined as “all petty theft that is not in the first degree,” meaning things like shoplifting at stores, or porch piracy, where there is no direct victim. But shoplifting at stores by an organized groups — as has been committed numerous times in department stores form San Francisco to Los Angeles — as that crime is covered under a separate State Law (PC-490.4).

Both first and second degree petty theft would be subject to a $1,000 fine and up to 6 months in County Jail, which is the normal sentence for a misdemeanor.

Grande theft, which can be charged as a felony, would apply to the theft of anything worth $950 or more.

The portions of the bill dealing with releasing convicted thieves, falls under PC-1170.98 and would commence in January 2022. Convicts would still have to undergo an appeal process through the courts to see if their case comes under the new law.

But SB-82 must still be passed by both Houses of the Legislature and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has a Sept. 14 recall election looming, and might not be around when it comes time to sign the bill into law, if it makes it that far.

Dow’s anger at SB-82 was prompted by Boxer’s robbery and a general move towards easing up on crime across the State. “This is exactly why I am opposing the ridiculous bill,” said D.A. Dow. “Downgrading a violent robbery to a petty theft is legislative malpractice. It will encourage violent behavior and make our community more dangerous.”

This past March, Dow said he sent a letter to the California Senate Public Safety Committee in strong opposition to SB-82 and encouraged them to refocus on the needs of victims and survivors of crime.

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