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Legalizing Theft

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Technically, the California Legislature has not actually legalized theft.  It has, however, reduced the consequences to the point that, for some people, it might as well be legal.

Ben Boychuk has this article in the City Journal on the brazen theft of his expensive new laptop from beneath his fingers at a Starbucks in Fontana.

It isn't easy looking at a photo lineup. But one mug shot was unmistakable. I paused for a long moment, and I must have had a strange look because the officer asked if I recognized someone. "Yes," I said. "That's the driver." Of all the forlorn faces staring up at me, his was the only one smiling.

"He was probably smiling because he knew he got one over on you with your computer," the officer said.

"I guess so. But why would he be smiling now, when he's under arrest?"

Because, I figured later, my smiling thief probably got one over on California's criminal-justice system, too. In 2011, the United States Supreme Court ordered 37,000 felons released from California's state prisons to remedy what Justice Anthony Kennedy called "serious constitutional violations." The state legislature responded with the Public Safety Realignment Act, which overhauled the state's felony sentencing and parole rules for "non-violent, non-serious, non-sex offenders." The new rules treat property crimes less seriously than violent offenses. And technically, what had happened to me was "grand theft from a person," rather than robbery, because the thief hadn't ripped the computer from my hands.

When the state decides that a serious offense is no longer so serious, you can guess what happens next. According to the state attorney general's office, property crimes rose 4.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011, just as the sentencing changes went into effect in October. It was the first increase in those crimes since 2004 and a sharp reversal from the 2.4 percent decline over the nine previous months. Coincidence? Possibly. Or it could be that changing the rules made property crimes more attractive for criminals--that the rewards now outweighed the risks. We'll have a much clearer picture later this year, when the attorney general releases the 2012 crime stats.

Replacing my laptop was expensive but easy enough. I bought a laptop lock this time, though I haven't used it, because I've never returned to the coffee shop. And two months later, I still haven't come to grips with the brazenness of the crime. Though no physical harm came to me, not a day passes that I don't see that smiling thief in my mind's eye.

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Theft is just one of many crimes that California's "realignment" has, de facto, legalized. And, with the iron grip that democrats have over the legislative and executive branches, don't expect the historically swinging criminal justice pendulum to move any time soon.

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