We, as a coalition of citizens and law enforcement, urge our legislators and fellow citizens to reject Senate Bill 82 (D-Skinner), which will make all robberies (theft by force or fear) into misdemeanor “petty theft” unless the robber uses a weapon or inflicts great bodily injury (GBI).
Under this Bill, a robber may overpower a victim with violence and, as long as the victim suffers only “moderate injury,” no felony robbery will result. By removing the felony consequence, this Bill will encourage thieves to commit robberies, and discounts the physical injury, emotional trauma and financial toll inflicted on victims.
This proposed law is deeply flawed and based on bad analysis. This Bill would, for example, allow a robber to ambush a lone woman in a parking lot or even using an ATM, threaten her, punch her in the face and wrestle away her purse—and then be charged with a petty theft misdemeanor as long as he inflicts only “moderate” injury.
The author claims this change reflects laws in New York, Oregon, Illinois, and Texas. However, none of those states allow their citizens to be injured to accomplish a theft and then give the thief a misdemeanor.
Making robbery a misdemeanor will increase the number of robberies, particularly by those currently committing petty thefts to support an addiction to drugs. Misdemeanors do not deter habitual or career thieves, who will regularly steal from merchants while being careful not to exceed $950 in value to avoid a felony. Career thieves have testified to this:
“[Defendant] testified that stealing from stores is ‘what [he] do[es] for a living,’ so he is … careful not to exceed the $950 felony threshold and ‘never touch[es] anybody, because [then] it’s a robbery.’” People v. Grant (2020) 57 Cal.App.5th 323
We should want thieves to fear “putting hands on” citizens as stated by Mr. Grant. But SB 82 does the opposite; by changing all robberies to petty theft, petty thieves will commit robberies because robberies will be more lucrative—better stuff with the less risk. Cash and credit cards from an “easy mark” are better than stealing something that must be sold from a store (with lights, cameras and loss prevention officers).
Thefts from retailers will be even worse with SB 82. Concealing items will become passé; instead thieves will regularly charge and shove retail staff like linebackers to escape with stolen items with no fear of a felony. Stores will have to choose between allowing rampant theft or risking injury or even civil liability if they fight back. In an effort to placate retailers, the Bill states that “organized retail theft” will still be a robbery. However, that crime does not protect against thieves working alone.
The author attempts to make assurances, which all fall flat. The author argues that “great bodily injury includes bruising,” which would then mean felony robbery charges.
This statement shows a dumbfounding lack of sensitivity for victims. A robbery victim is physically overpowered so their most personal belongings can be taken by force. It challenges a victim’s very autonomy and creates lasting fear, traumatic with any injury or even none. To add insult, while still in crisis the victim must scramble to replace lost IDs and credit cards, and reckon with intangible losses like stolen account information, correspondence or photos from a phone—all of which creates further exposure to identity theft. Nothing about these harms is “petty.”
Regardless, the author is also wrong that bruising means “great bodily injury.” The law has no list of “great bodily injuries”; GBI just means “more than moderate,” and the jury decides what that means. Even “disfigurement or suturing or organ or bone impairment can be great bodily injury only if [the jury] determines [it is].” People v. Nava (1989) 207 Cal. App. 3d 1490. Juries historically found bruising to be great injury with “extensive, severe bruising, in conjunction with other injuries,” but even then any jury could disagree. People v. Beasley (2003) 105 Cal.App.4th 1078. This should give little comfort to victims and, obviously, some can experience terrifying violence without much injury at all. The gravity of the assault is irrelevant, the size of the attacker or vulnerability of the victim is irrelevant—even punches and kicks will avoid felony robbery so long as only “moderate” injury results. The author has not considered the disparity in gender, age, and size among people. Senior citizens, women, and children are the most vulnerable under this Bill. In the recent tragic robbery of Pak Chung Ho of Oakland, he was punched and shoved. Had he not struck his head and received a fatal injury, this robbery would have surely been “petty theft” under SB82. The question of robbery vs. petty theft will literally depend on how well the victim “takes a punch,” and the high bar of “great injury” could make room for a lot of punches.
Finally, the author offers that “other crimes can be charged” instead of robbery when this wave of new assaults occur. The apparent strategy is to make up for encouraging one crime by charging other crimes. More charges will not help the devastated victims. Victims of these increased robberies will have to reckon with “moderate injury” and other trauma from the “successful” robberies and potentially far greater harms, even death, where the victim is vulnerable, the thief miscalculates or the victim decides to fight back. We would force citizens to get in fist fights to protect their purses and wallets on a regular basis. Over 100 years ago, California law recognized the threat of robbery because of “the greater liability of endangering the person or life of the victim.” People v. McElroy (1897) 116 Cal. 583. The author suggests this concept is dated. The death of Mr. Ho says otherwise. In the end, bewildered citizens will not be grateful with the promise of more charges; they will wonder why responsible leaders ever allowed more robberies to be encouraged in the first place.
On top of the other harms, this Bill will retroactively apply to resentence numerous convicted robbers. These inmates will have to be transported and housed; numerous hearings will take place where victims will be dragged in to recount their trauma all over again; numerous appeals will occur, all because now “force and fear” will not be enough.
This will be a significant cost to taxpayers when our state is in the midst of a budget crisis.
According to Federal Reserve Chairman Powell, a need exists to keep the current stimulating policy until the end of 2023 to allow more time for the U.S. economy to recover. The expense of this attempt at mass clemency for convicted robbers would mean that other essential expenses for growth of our economy and for the safety and well being of the citizens would have to be curtailed—all in favor of a bill that will actually encourage more violent crime.
These recent, violent robberies in California have captured the world’s attention and made citizens feel unsafe. California needs more protection from crime, not less. This bill is just going the opposite direction.
Suffice it to say, SB82 is a dangerous and detrimental bill and must be rejected.
Asian American Prosecutors’ Association
California District Attorneys’ Association
California Grocers’ Association
California Narcotic Officers’ Association
Chief Ron Lawrence – Police Chief of Citrus Height
Crime Survivors, Inc.
Crime Victims United
Frederick Douglas Foundation
Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce
Organization for Justice and Equality
Dr. Raymond Kim – Finance Professor of Northern Arizona University
Ryan Couzens – Asst. Deputy District Attorney of Yolo County