We’re now ten years into the Prop 47 era, and a pair of state Assembly members have introduced new bills to make it more likely accused thieves get charged with felonies under the law’s guidelines.
Here’s a surprising statistic about theft and burglary in California. Property crime rates have actually gone down since that state passed the now often-derided Prop 47, which made property crimes more likely to be charged as misdemeanors instead of felonies (chart below, property crime is the red line). As the Public Policy Institute of California found this past October, property crime has steadily inched down most years since that law’s 2014 passage, and surprisingly, such crimes were substantially more frequent in the 1970s. But it’s also true that property crime has increased statewide in both 2021 and 2022, and in some jurisdictions, it’s gotten particularly bad.
So there is some public appetite towards revising Prop 47. And two California state Assembly members, both Democrats, have proposed two bills that would allow voter-approved changes to Prop 47 that would make it easier to charge accused thieves and burglars with felony charges instead of misdemeanors, according to KTVU.
"There's folks that commit this crime three times, four times, five times and it just continues to be a misdemeanor," Assemblyman Carlos Villapudua (D-Stockton) told KTVU. "Give prosecutors more arsenal to be able to convict and hold people accountable for these actions that they're taking,"
There is a popular misconception that Prop 47 ended all prosecutions of thefts of less than $950, which it did not. Instead, it made thefts of under $950 misdemeanor charges instead of felonies.
The bill from Villapudua and Assemblymember James Ramos (D-San Bernardino) would give California voters the option of passing a new law that added up the value of all stolen items, rather than pricing them individually. Moreover, the bill might also add in the value of properties stolen in a suspect’s previous convictions toward that $950 threshold.
There have been many attempts to overturn Prop 47 in previous years' legislative sessions, and all of them have failed. The difference with this one is that it does not attempt to repeal Prop 47, and only changes how the $950 threshold is interpreted. Moreover, it just creates the possibility that voters can make these changes via a ballot measure.
So this could be turning to an election issue sometime in the not-too distant future.
And, it should be noted, Villapudua is running for a state senate seat in Stockton — a decision he just made last month. Assemblymembers are not permitted to run for both offices, so Villapudua is putting his Assembly seat up for grabs in the hopes of moving over to the other chamber, and changes to Prop 47 could be just the sort of campaign talking point he needs.
Image: Shoplifters will be prosecuted sign in a store (Getty Images)