Proposition 47, a law enacted in California in 2014, has been brought back into the public eye following a segment that aired on Fox News.
The proposition reduces the penalties for some non-violent drug and petty theft offenses. Some Republican lawmakers in California are now pushing for a bill to repeal Proposition 47, while other lawmakers are looking to amend it. A recent poll also found that most voters surveyed would support changes to Proposition 47, the Los Angeles Times reports.
“We're proposing a pretty radical idea. Make crime illegal again in California,” Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Calif.), who appeared on Fox News in support of the bill to repeal Proposition 47, wrote in a tweet.
During his February appearance on Fox News, Kiley said, “We removed the consequence for stealing – and what do you know, it caused a lot more stealing. Under Prop 47, you can go into a store and steal up to $950 worth of merchandise and it’s not even charged as a felony. It’s not even a slap on the wrist.”
Can you steal up to $950 worth of merchandise in California without consequence under Proposition 47?
- California Courts
- Michael Romano, co-sponsor of Proposition 47 and chairperson of the California Committee on the Revision of the Penal Code
- California penal code
- Charis Kubrin, Ph.D., professor of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of California Irvine
No, you can’t steal up to $950 worth of merchandise in California without consequence under Proposition 47. The proposition reduced the punishment for certain theft crimes, but it still classifies shoplifting as a misdemeanor.
WHAT WE FOUND
Proposition 47 reclassified certain theft offenses from felony charges to misdemeanors, according to California Courts.
The proposition created a new misdemeanor offense called “shoplifting,” which is punishable by up to six months in county jail, according to California Courts. Attorneys (here, here and here) say shoplifters could also face a fine of up to $1,000, or both a fine and jail time. Shoplifting is defined under California’s penal code as “entering a commercial establishment with intent to commit larceny while that establishment is open during regular business hours, where the value of the property that is taken or intended to be taken does not exceed $950.”
Before the passage of Proposition 47, shoplifters were usually charged under the state’s burglary laws, which carried felony penalties, according to Robert Helfend, a criminal defense attorney in California.
In California, burglary means a person enters an inhabited residence – such as a home, apartment, boat or warehouse – “with intent to commit grand or petit larceny or any felony,” the state’s penal code says. First-degree burglary is punishable by up to six years in prison, felony probation and/or fines.
A person charged with shoplifting in California cannot also be charged with burglary or theft of the same property.
Michael Romano, co-sponsor of Proposition 47 and chairperson of the California Committee on the Revision of the Penal Code, wrote in an email to VERIFY that the state directs savings from reduced incarceration into services such as mental health treatment and schools.
Opponents of the law say it’s led to an uptick in theft incidents, but Romano says Proposition 47 has had “no measurable negative impact on crime rates.” California’s property crime rate in 2020 was “significantly below” what it was in 2000 – down by 32%, according to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) California. However, there were statewide increases in property crime in 2012 and 2015.
“Since 2000, California has implemented many criminal justice reforms. No research to date has linked any of these reforms to changes in violent crime, but they have been found to be contributing factors to coinciding temporary increases in auto theft and larceny,” the PPIC writes.
In a 2018 research article published in the Criminology and Public Policy journal, the authors explain that Proposition 47 also reduced other crimes in which the stolen property was less than $950 from felonies to misdemeanors. Those crimes include grand theft, receiving stolen property, forgery, fraud and writing a bad check.
“Prop 47 was intended to impact future convictions and sentencing but also allowed for individuals incarcerated at the time for crimes covered by the measure to petition for resentencing,” the article says. “Notably, Prop 47 required thorough review of an individual’s criminal history and proper risk assessment before resentencing to ensure public safety.”
Charis Kubrin, Ph.D, professor of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of California, Irvine, is one of the article’s authors. She explained in an email to VERIFY that Proposition 47 does allow for the prosecution of shoplifting and other petty theft crimes — just as misdemeanors instead of felonies.
"If the police do not make arrests for these misdemeanor crimes and prosecutors do not prosecute them even when the police do make an arrest, that is not the fault of Proposition 47 itself," Kubrin said.