California Democrats Kill Bill That Aimed to Criminalize Using Children to Steal

California Democrats Kill Bill That Aimed to Criminalize Using Children to Steal

A series of smash-and-grab robberies left stores with boarded up windows in San Francisco on Nov. 22, 2021. (Lear Zhou/The Epoch Times)

Travis Gillmore

Travis Gillmore

4/26/2024

Updated: 4/28/2024

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SACRAMENTO—Democratic lawmakers in the California Assembly’s Public Safety Committee rejected a measure on April 23 that would make it a crime to cause a minor to commit theft.
At issue was Assembly Bill 2406, authored by Assemblywoman Laurie Davies, which would allow adults who employ or coerce a child to steal to be charged with a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances.
“What we were ultimately trying to do is create a new penalty for adults who use children to commit theft-related crimes,” Ms. Davies told The Epoch Times by email April 24. “Any adult who uses a child to do their dirty work should have the full weight of the justice system thrown at them.”
Committee members opposed to the bill expressed concern that a homeless mother who told her child to steal food to “fill their belly” could be charged with a felony, a notion that was rejected by the bill’s author and law enforcement officials.
“I’m disappointed my colleagues decided to use hypotheticals as reasoning to ultimately defeat the measure,” Ms. Davies said. “As my expert witness from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office had stated in his testimony and subsequent response to such questions, in his over 15-year career, he has never once seen a mother trying to feed her children charged with a felony as a result of that action.”
Testifying in support of the bill, Orange County Senior Deputy District Attorney Bradley Schoenleben said some adults are taking advantage of the legal system by persuading children to commit crimes because there are fewer consequences for their actions.
“Minors throughout California are being used by thieves as instrumentalities of crime,” Mr. Schoenleben told lawmakers. “Minors make the perfect tool in committing widespread theft, and we must discourage this alarming and damaging trend.”
Supporters of the measure argued that children are being enticed through incentives including financial gain and that more needs to be done to protect them.
“AB 2406 addresses head-on a particularly pernicious aspect of retail theft: the exploitation of underaged kids,” the National Federation of Business said in the committee’s analysis. “Collectively, we as Californians do not tolerate the exploitation of children in any way and the time is now to send a strong message that it will not be tolerated in the retail theft space either.”
The group suggested that by increasing penalties for adults causing young Californians to steal, some children will be saved from entering a life of crime.
“Not only will the implementation of this bill as law send a strong message to those exploiting California’s youth and assist small business owners in preserving their ability to conduct business in California, but it will also help to prevent our youth from committing that first crime that might lead them down the perilous path of potential recidivism,” the business federation said.
Opponents argued that penalty enhancements do little to deter crime.
Assemblywoman Laurie Davies (R-Laguna Niguel) at a press conference in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., on Feb. 7, 2022. (Tim Kearns)

Assemblywoman Laurie Davies (R-Laguna Niguel) at a press conference in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., on Feb. 7, 2022. (Tim Kearns)

“Increasing penalties for non-violent offenses like retail theft will do little to make our communities safer,” the Vera Institute of Justice said in the legislative analysis. “It is long past time to reject the reach for ‘tough’ policies in favor of real solutions.”
They said supplementing social programs addressing poverty would prove more beneficial.
“When people are arrested for stealing out of need—whether in cooperation with an organized operation or not—we need to make sure they don’t need to do it again,” the justice institute said. “Instead of reducing public safety through unnecessary and often counterproductive incarceration, we can effectively intervene by meeting their needs and connecting them to stable housing, jobs, and other treatment and services.”
Other opponents said the bill would allow prosecutors to send to prison an 18-year-old who convinced a 17-year-old to steal clothes or other items—suggesting that such crimes result from a lack of resources and not criminal intent.
“The bill is overly broad and overly punitive,” Glenn Backes, representing the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, told lawmakers during the hearing. “Felony penalties for being poor exacerbate and accelerate the downward spiral in homelessness and ensure the intergenerational transfer in poverty in families, particularly in black, Latino, and indigenous families in California.”
Committee member Rick Chavez Zbur said data does not support the need for enhancing penalties and noted his concern that hungry people could be sent to prison for “very minor activities.”
He argued that existing law already allows charges for contributing to the delinquency of a minor and that adding a new crime was unnecessary.
“I think you’ve got significant tools to address these situations,” Mr. Zbur said during the hearing. “And I’m not going to be able to support the bill today.”
Rather than voting against the bill, the six Democratic members of the committee chose not to vote, thus killing the measure.
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Travis Gillmore

Travis Gillmore

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Travis Gillmore is an avid reader and journalism connoisseur based in California covering finance, politics, the State Capitol, and breaking news for The Epoch Times.

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