By David M. Greenwald
El Dorado County, CA – The California District Attorneys Association attempted to exploit the robbery and attack on former US Senator Barbara Boxer earlier this week. They used it to attempt to press the state legislature to withdraw SB 82—the problem was that SB 82 died a few month ago in the Appropriations Committee.
“There was nothing petty about what happened to former U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer yesterday—it was a violent robbery, and it was awful,” the release stated. “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 Senator Nancy Skinner.”
The release continued: “The same Nancy Skinner who proposed declaring such horrific crimes misdemeanor petty thefts under SB 82.”
Under SB 82, the legislature would update a 150-year-old statute that has allowed prosecutors to elevate a petty theft charge into felony robbery. SB 82 would establish a clear distinction between theft and robbery for cases when no deadly weapon was used and no one was seriously injured.
One kicker is that with a felony assault on the former senator, SB 82 would likely not impact the incident that occurred against Senator Boxer.
In a release earlier this year, Senator Skinner noted, “SB 82 will help ensure that in the case of theft, the punishment meets the crime.”
There is a belief that there is a need to reform California’s 150-year-old robbery statute, because it allows prosecutors to elevate petty theft charges into felony robbery cases.
“The Penal Code Revision Committee is absolutely correct: Petty theft, like shoplifting, should never be treated as felony robbery,” Sen. Skinner said. “California’s robbery statute hasn’t been updated since 1872. It’s time for us to make sure the punishment is proportionate to the crime committed.”
Under California’s robbery statute, a person who uses minimal “force” or is perceived to invoke “fear” during a petty theft can be charged and convicted of felony robbery and sentenced to up to five years in prison. The terms “force” and “fear” are often interpreted loosely.
The CDAA argued: “Make no mistake, this was a strong-arm robbery of an 80-year-old grandmother. Fortunately, she was not seriously injured.”
They continued, “While Senator Boxer is prominent and a household name due to her lengthy tenure in Congress, 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.”
The CDAA then called on Senator Skinner to “withdraw” SB 82.
“It is not reform—it’s madness that only encourages lawlessness,” they write.
The problem is, the bill has long since died for this term.
Senator Skinner’s office confirmed for the Vanguard that the bill died a few months ago in the Appropriations Committee and therefore there is nothing to withdraw.
They also declined comment on the issue.
A number of DAs across the state put out similar press releases.
“This is a real life example of why I have been fighting to keep the crime of robbery from being downgraded to a petty theft,” said El Dorado District Attorney Vern Pierson, who serves as the President of CDAA. “It’s ridiculous that SB82 is being called ‘reform,’ because in the real world, it will be a flat-out invitation for robbers to violently attack innocent people.”
“This is exactly why I am opposing the ridiculous bill,” said San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow. “Downgrading a violent robbery to a petty theft is legislative malpractice. It will encourage violent behavior and make our community more dangerous.”
None of the DAs the Vanguard contacted returned our emails or calls. The Prosecutor’s Alliance also did not immediately respond to the Vanguard’s email request for comment.