How Theft Penalties Were Changed By Proposition 47

changes sign

California law defines theft as the stealing or unauthorized taking of money, property, or labor. The basic crime is divided into two categories:  grand theft and petty theft. Receiving stolen property is a related crime.

Petty theft is a misdemeanor that is punishable by a maximum jail sentence of 6 months. Grand theft is generally classified as a “wobbler.” A prosecutor has discretion to charge a wobbler as either a felony or a misdemeanor. If charged as a misdemeanor, grand theft carries a maximum sentence of about 1 year. If charged as a felony, the maximum sentence is 3 years.

Proposition 47 reclassified some theft offenses that had been designated as wobblers to misdemeanors. Those crimes can no longer be charged as felonies. The change in the law went into effect when Proposition 47 was passed on November 4, 2014.

The change made by Prop 47 affects pending charges as well as crimes that will be charged in the future. It does not change convictions for which a sentence has already been imposed, but it does give convicted offenders a chance to seek a sentence reduction. This article will explain how Prop 47 changes penalties for California theft offenses. Click here for a full proposition 47 guide that explains penalty changes for various crimes.

The reason for the change

Over a period of decades, the California legislature’s “get tough on crime” mentality caused California prison to swell with an ever-growing population of nonviolent offenders. Federal courts have ordered California to reduce its prison population but the state government moved slowly in its effort to comply with those orders.

Recognizing that the state budget was increasingly strained by the cost of maintaining prisons, taxpayers turned to Prop 47 to force the government to change its approach to crime control. Voters understood that crime prevention is best accomplished by rehabilitating nonviolent offenders, not by locking them up in state prisons. Proposition 47 redirects money to crime prevention programs while reclassifying a number of felonies or wobblers as misdemeanors. In addition to theft, Proposition 47 reclassified certain crimes involving drug possession, forgery, and writing worthless checks.

The reclassification of offenses will, over time, reduce the strain on California’s overcrowded prisons. Offenders who are sentenced for felonies generally serve that sentence in prison if the sentence is longer than one year. By eliminating the possibility of felony penalties for certain nonviolent crimes, Prop 47 will result in fewer offenders being sentenced to prison.

Theft crimes affected by Proposition 47

The classification of three theft crimes was affected by Prop 47. The new law does not change the classification of potentially violent offenses that involve the theft of property. Crimes such as robbery and burglary can still be charged as felonies regardless of the value of any property that is stolen. In addition, some sophisticated theft crimes, such as embezzlement, fraud, and identity theft, are unaffected by Prop 47.

A theft of property of any value can be still be charged as a felony if a firearm is used to commit the crime. In addition, any of the following crimes can still be charged as felonies if the offender was previously convicted of certain violent crimes or is required to register as a sex offender.

Grand theft. As a general rule, California law provides that a theft of money or property worth $950 or less is a petty theft while a theft of money or property worth more than $950 is a grand theft. Before Proposition 47, a few exceptions to that rule classified the theft of certain property of lesser value as grand theft. Those included the theft of:

  • An automobile, regardless of value
  • A firearm, regardless of value
  • Horses and certain farm animals, regardless of value
  • Farm crops worth $250 or more
  • Any property stolen from a person (such as pickpocketing or purse snatching), regardless of value

Proposition 47 provides that thefts of property worth less than $950 must be regarded as petty thefts and charged as a misdemeanor. In other words, the value of the property, rather than the nature of the property, now determines whether the crime is a wobbler. Only the theft of property worth more than $950 can be charged as a felony. Prosecutors retain the discretion, however, to charge thefts of property worth more than $950 as misdemeanors.

In addition, prior law authorized prosecutors to charge offenders accused of theft with felonies if they had a record of theft-related convictions, regardless of the value of the property they stole. After Prop 47, a prior record of theft convictions will not affect the classification of the crime as a misdemeanor.

Shoplifting. Prior to Proposition 47, California’s expansive definition of burglary included entering a store to commit a grand or petty theft. That law gave prosecutors the option of charging theft from a store as a felony burglary rather than a petty theft.

Proposition 47 creates the offense of shoplifting. It defines shoplifting as entering a commercial business while it is open with the intent to steal (or actually stealing) property worth $950 or less. Shoplifting must be punished as a misdemeanor.

Receiving stolen property. The crime of buying, receiving, concealing, or keeping property with knowledge that it was stolen was a wobbler prior to Prop 47. Under current law, the crime must be charged as a misdemeanor if the value of the stolen property is $950 or less.

Sentence reductions for theft crimes

The changes made by Prop 47 apply only to offenders who had not been sentenced on the date the new law went into effect. Offenders who have been sentenced for a felony theft will continue to be convicted of a felony even if the offense has now been reclassified as a misdemeanor.

The new law does give the hope of relief to offenders who were sentenced for felonies that are required to be charged as misdemeanors under the new law. An inmate who is currently serving such a sentence can petition the court for a “recall” of the sentence. In essence, that means the inmate is asking the court to vacate the existing sentence and to impose a new one.

The court is required to recall the sentence and to impose a misdemeanor sentence upon the offender unless the court decides that resentencing the offender “would pose an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.” To make that decision, the court must consider:

  • The nature and age of the offender’s prior convictions, if any.
  • The harm the offender caused to victims of previous offenses, if any.
  • The length of any previous sentences imposed upon the offender.
  • The offender’s disciplinary record and efforts at rehabilitation while incarcerated.
  • Any other evidence of risk of danger to the public that the court deems relevant.

The “risk of danger to public safety” that the court must consider is the risk that the offender will commit new violent crimes if released. The risk that the offender will commit new thefts is not relevant to the court’s risk assessment.

An offender who is resentenced is entitled to credit against that sentence for time already served. That means that many offenders who are granted resentencing will be released from custody as soon as their petition is granted.

Inmates who are entitled to petition for resentencing should ordinarily be given a new misdemeanor sentence if they have no record of violent convictions. Only in an unusual case would there be evidence that an inmate who has never been convicted of a violent crime poses a risk of committing a violent crime if released.

Although an inmate who has a criminal record that includes a violent crime may have more difficulty persuading a court to grant a petition to recall a theft sentence, the inmate’s lawyer may be able to make a strong argument that the inmate poses no risk to public safety. That argument is most likely to be successful when the inmate has not recently been convicted of a violent crime and when there is strong evidence that the inmate has changed his or her attitude about violent criminal behavior.

Any inmate serving a felony theft sentence for a crime that must now be punished as a misdemeanor should seek legal advice. Proposition 47 provides an excellent opportunity for those inmates to gain an early release from custody.

Alleged Laguna Niguel Attacker Arrested for Assault on Real Estate Agent Faces Charges

Female Real Estate Agent Handing Over Keys in Front of Beautiful House.

Last month, a 55-year-old female real estate agent was attacked as she closed up a Laguna Niguel home. In light of the recent slaying of an Arkansas agent, this incident has real estate agents across the state rethinking their safety.

The attack on took place just before 1 P.M. in the 24000 block of Paseo Del Campo as the agent was securing the lock box of a home that she had listed. The attacker came from behind, put her in a choke hold and punched her in the face, only fleeing the scene after she managed to scream.

A neighbor tried to restrain the assailant after hearing the commotion, but he managed to escape and evade police for over 16 hours. The real estate agent, whose identity has not been released, was treated at a local hospital and allowed to go home that same evening.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victim in this case. To be attacked in broad daylight in such a vicious manner must have been awful.

After a massive search that included dogs and helicopters, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department made an arrest the following morning. At 8:09 A.M. 23 year-old transient John Glenn was placed under arrest for the assault as he exited a park located near the intersection of Crown Valley Parkway and Niguel Road.

According to an interview with Glenn, the real estate agent was not the target. Admitting to being under the influence of drugs at the time, Glenn claims he was attempting to break into the home at the time of the attack. Continue reading

Timothy Lance Lai Finally Arrested in Corona Del Mar Cheating Scandal

Corona Del Mar City Sign

Timothy Lance Lai, 29, the tutor that has been at the center of a cheating scandal that rocked Corona Del Mar High School in Orange County since last summer was finally arrested as he was trying to re-enter the country at LAX.  Officers arrested Lai on October 6 and charged him with four felony counts of computer access and fraud and one count of second-degree commercial burglary.

The Background Story of Cheating at a Top-performing Orange County High School

A student told officers that Lai entered a classroom to install a keylogger device on a teacher’s computer in April 2012 after the student had failed to successfully install the device. In June 2013, a teacher at Corona del Mar High School discovered that someone had changed grades and notified the school’s administration.  Officers received information from a student that a tutor was involved but did not reveal the name of the tutor.  Officers investigated but without further information, the investigation went cold.

In December 2013, a student came forward and reported that Lai asked the student to install a keylogger device.  The student participated in a recorded telephone conversation between the student and Lai.  Lai identified himself, described his involvement and named specific students involved. A total of 12 students are known to be involved in the cheating scandal. Continue reading

Charlie Sheen Sued and May Face Sexual Battery Charges

Charlie Sheen smilingCharlie Sheen has a “bad boy” image that leaves him vulnerable to accusations of misconduct. The star of Anger Management is being sued by a dental technician who claims that he punched her and grabbed her bra. Sheen maintains that the allegations are false. The case illustrates the risk that celebrities will be unfairly targeted in litigation that is designed to extort settlements.

The Accusation

Sheen was given nitrous oxide in a dentist’s office while undergoing treatment for an abscess in his mouth. The dental technician who was assisting him told police that Sheen ripped off his mask and made death threats before he grabbed her “breast area” and pulled on her bra strap in an apparent attempt to remove her bra. She also claims that Sheen struck her, although news accounts differ as to whether she alleges that he hit her in the face or in the chest. Continue reading

Man in Anaheim is Arrested for Allegedly Robbing Girlfriend’s Elderly Grandmother

grandmother with glasses

An Anaheim man was recently arrested and accused of robbing his girlfriends’ 82-year-old mother in her home. According to the police statement, the accused took “several jewelry items and coins” in addition to ransacking the home. While robbery is not a new notion, the thought that someone would A) rob their girlfriends mother, and B) rob an elderly person is not so taboo anymore. These crimes are occurring at increasing rates, which should be alarming to the public. However, just because someone is accused and arrested does not always mean that they are guilty, or that they will be going to jail. Continue reading

Jail Sentencing for Assault on a Minor

Guy in Jail for assault

There are three forms of assault that can be punishable in a court of a law: common assault, criminal assault, or aggravated assault. Common assault is almost any behavior that can be judged as offensive or threatening, which is done with the volition to harm someone else but fails in physical harm. For instance, if you try to hit someone with a punch, a kick, or an object and miss, you have committed a common attack against them. Even though no physical harm was done, the failure to commit a criminal attack may still be prosecuted as a common one. Criminal assault is associated with battery and is harmful, physical contact, which has resulted in another person’s injury. For instance, punching, kicking, or using an object whether by striking or throwing are forms of battery as long as the victim has been physically harmed. Aggravated assault is where the offender uses a foreign object as a weapon and injures his or her victim severely, which goes beyond the normalcy of a common criminal strike. Continue reading

American banker arrested

Statute of Limitations for White Collar Crime

A statute of limitation is the time allowed for prosecutors to lay a charge against someone who is accused of committing a criminal offense. The period normally runs from the point at which the alleged offense has been disclosed or discovered. This period varies depending on the category of offense as well as the jurisdiction involved. California’s statutes of limitation for criminal charges are not exactly the same as other states and also differ from those of the federal government.

Statutes of limitation allocated for white collar offenses are particularly complex, partly because of the heterogeneous nature of the offense itself. Some of the more heinous offenses, including murder (which is not one of these offenses) and embezzlement of public funds (which is one of these offenses) do not have any statute of limitations at all. This means that whenever an individual is alleged to have committed an offense there is no time limit on them for being prosecuted.

Most white collar crimes have a statute of limitations between 1 and 10 years. Generally, the less severe the alleged offense means the shorter the time period allowed for prosecutors to act. Continue reading

Difference Between Corporal Injury and Battery

Open law book with a gavel on top

If you or someone you know has been charged with anything related to domestic violence, there is a high probability that those charges are either corporal injury on an intimate partner or a spousal battery. A spousal battery is also called a domestic battery.  A corporal injury and a spousal battery are the most common domestic abuse charges. Despite having a few similarities, the crimes of a corporal injury and a spousal battery have a few distinguished differences that greatly affect the ways in which defendants are prosecuted and defended.

What is a Corporal Injury on an Intimate Partner?

Penal Code 273.5 PC governs a corporal injury to an intimate partner (CIIP). The crime may also be referred to as a spousal abuse, domestic abuse, domestic violence, and a willful or intentional infliction of CIIP. Continue reading

Qualifications for Expungement in California

Judge Sitting With Book Looking at Defendant

A mistake in judgment that you made years ago can have far-reaching effects, including your ability to get the job that you want, obtain some professional licenses, or rent a home.  Even though California criminal records are a matter of public record, an individual would need to know where to look for these files and take the time to look through thousands of court records in each county to find your records.

However, electronic indexing has made it much easier for individuals and companies to obtain copies of your records.  Companies index court records into large databases that are easy to search by name, address, date of birth or any other relevant information that can be found in a court record.  Potential employers and landlords then pay these research companies for a background report to determine if you have any outstanding warrants or past felonies or misdemeanors.

Fortunately, having your record expunged is often possible.  An expungement allows an individual or their attorney to petition the court to reopen his or her case so that they may enter a plea of “not guilty” and have the case dismissed.  A MacGregor & Collins, LLP expungement attorney will make the process easier because they are familiar with the process and know exactly what information and forms will be required to expunge your record in California.

The benefits of obtaining an expungement include preventing potential employers from discriminating against you for a job and allowing you to apply for professional licenses or rental agreements without the fear of your past mistakes coming back to haunt you. Continue reading

Will a DUI Show Up on My Background Check?

Criminal background check

Facing a DUI charge is a serious matter that leaves most individuals wishing they had used different judgment before getting behind the wheel.  Despite the initial fear that follows an arrest, having a drunk driving charge does not have to be the end of the world.  An experienced attorney can help you resolve a drunk driving charge so that you can get on with your life.  Once you pay the penalty for driving while intoxicated, that should be the end of the story and no one should hold that against you.

Unfortunately for some, their drunk driving charge does not stop affecting them after their case has been resolved. For those with little to no knowledge about the subject, legitimate concerns keep them from applying for certain jobs or pursuing certain opportunities. Their drunk driving offense becomes a horrible fear that restricts their upward mobility. Finding out whether an offense can be found during a background check becomes a matter of supreme importance. Continue reading