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Petty Theft Auto

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Stealing a person's means of transportation has long been considered a particularly egregious form of theft.  In 1789, for example, the Virginia Legislature made horse theft a "felony without benefit of clergy," i.e., a capital offense.

In modern criminal law, the felony of grand theft is typically distinguished from the misdemeanor of petty theft by the value of the property, but in many states theft of an automobile is a felony regardless of value.  Hence the term "grand theft auto."

California has been steadily watering down the punishment of auto theft for six years now.  The realignment bill of 2011 assured auto thieves they would never go to state prison for the crime.  Proposition 47 made all thefts of property worth less than $950 a misdemeanor, regardless of the nature of the property.

What kind of clunker is worth less than $950?  Precisely the kind of car owned by people who can barely afford a car at all, do not carry comprehensive insurance, and are devastated by the loss.

What about people already in prison for stealing clunkers?
Maura Dolan reports for the LA Times:

A person convicted of a felony for stealing a car may have that conviction reduced to a misdemeanor if the vehicle was worth no more than $950, the California Supreme Court decided unanimously Thursday.

The decision came in a case interpreting Proposition 47, a 2014 ballot measure that reduced felonies for certain drug and theft crimes to misdemeanors.

Two years before the measure's passage, Timothy Wayne Page was convicted of violating a law that makes taking or driving a vehicle without the owner's consent a felony.

The state's highest court, in a decision written by Justice Leondra R. Kruger, said Proposition 47 allows Page to have his felony vehicle conviction reduced to a misdemeanor if he can show the vehicle's value was $950 or less.

A San Bernardino County judge ordered Page to prison for nearly 11 years for taking the vehicle, resisting an officer and resisting while driving dangerously. The sentence also reflected the fact that Page had prior felonies.

Thursday's decision overturned rulings by lower courts.

Well, at least they left the burden of proof of value on the thief.  The opinion in People v. Page, S230793, is here.

According to the FBI's Crime in the United States tallies for 2011 and 2016, California's per-capita rate of auto theft is up 15.6% for that interval, while the national rate is stable at a mere 3% increase.

See also this post from 2014.

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Sickening. I understand (don't agree with) the drang nach nachsicht in our society. America has a relatively harsh sentencing regime, and the consequences to criminals can be very bad. Couple that with the siren song of being "smart on crime" and the feel-goodness of being nice, it takes moral courage to advocate for a stern sentencing regime. In this particular case, our soi-disant betters have to know what this does, and they can't claim the ignorance of some members of our society who swallow whole the nonsense peddled by the soft-on-crime lobby.

I'll note parenthetically that I advocate holding the line on the felony-murder rule as it applies to accomplices. I get it that it has the potential to work harshly, but I think that this doesn't overcome the fact that: (a) criminals who work in concert are more dangerous, and hence more blameworthy, (b) the fact that all of them will eat the same charge means that on the spot, the criminals will often rein in the more bloodthirsty of the bunch (or in the case of rape, the guy who wants to rape the girl during a home invasion), (c) it keeps prosecutors from having to sort out who the triggerman was, which decreases the chance for unmerited lenience and (d) it induces cooperation.

Rick Perry allowed himself to be seduced by bogus criticism of Texas' law of the parties and cheated a victim's family out of justice. (And he also rewarded a disgusting attack on a female acquaintance of the victim.)

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