Prior to September 9, 2010, the law in California dictated that if an individual had once been convicted of any theft offense, and had served at least a day in jail, any subsequent convictions for petty theft could be prosecuted as a felony, rather than a misdemeanor. The pertinent statute, California Penal Code Section 666, “Petty Theft with a Prior.”
However, On September 9, 2010, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 1844, which drastically changed how countless petty theft crimes are charged in California. Specifically, under the new law, the petty theft with a prior statute cannot be alleged unless the accused has been convicted of a theft related offense three or more times (at least one of which included jail time).
There is, however, one important exception. This exception provides that only one prior theft conviction is required if the defendant is a registered sex offender (pursuant to California Penal Code Section 290), or if he or she has a prior conviction for a serious or violent felony (i.e., a “strike” under California law pursuant to California Penal Code Section 667.5).
This legislation signifies an ever-increasing trend in how California lawmakers have approached criminal sentencing, in the process making a critical distinction between violent and non-violent offenders.
The message delivered under this approach has generally been clear and to the point: violent offenders need to be locked up; non-violent offenders typically deserve multiple chances at rehabilitation before spending a significant amount of time behind bars.
The exact language of AB 1844 and the subsequent amended reading of C.P.C 666 are as follows:
“ SEC . 15. Section 666 of the Penal Code is amended to read: 666 (a) Notwithstanding Section 490, every person who, having been convicted three or more times of petty theft, grand theft, auto theft under Section 10851 of the Vehicle Code, burglary, carjacking, robbery, or a felony violation of Section 496 and having served a term therefor in any penal institution or having been imprisoned therein as a condition of probation for that offense, is subsequently convicted of petty theft, then the person convicted of that subsequent offense is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison.
(b) Notwithstanding Section 490, any person described in paragraph (1) who, having been convicted of petty theft, grand theft, auto theft under Section 10851 of the Vehicle Code, burglary, carjacking, robbery, or a felony violation of Section 496, and having served a term of imprisonment therefor in any penal institution or having been imprisoned therein as a condition of probation for that offense, who is subsequently convicted of petty theft, is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison.
(1) This subdivision shall apply to any person who is required to register pursuant to the Sex Offender Registration Act, or who has a prior violent or serious felony conviction, as specified in subdivision (c) of Section 667.5 or subdivision (c) of Section 1192.7.
(2) This subdivision shall not be construed to preclude prosecution or punishment pursuant to subdivisions (b) to (i), inclusive, of Section 667, or Section 1170.12.”