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Proposition 47 did not end prosecution of thefts under $950 in California

July 23, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Under Proposition 47 in California thefts under $950 will not be prosecuted.

AP ASSESSMENT: False. Proposition 47 was passed in California in 2014 and reclassified felony theft offenses as misdemeanors. It did not allow shoplifting and petty theft to go unprosecuted.

THE FACTS: The false claim about the proposition circulated on social media with a video showing two individuals walking out of a T.J. Maxx in Granada Hills, California, with duffle bags filled with merchandise and their arms filled with clothing on hangers. No one attempted to stop the pair as they walked out of the store and through the parking lot.

The scene was captured on video by another person in the store and circulated widely on news media.

Adam Carolla, a comedian who hosts a podcast, posted the video to Facebook along with a false comment about Proposition 47.

“Thanks to Prop 47 thefts under $950 will not be prosecuted,” Carolla commented on the post. “So cops will not bother showing up. Just a reminder that you get what you voted for, California!”

But the post is incorrect. The 2014 proposition modified, but did not eliminate, sentencing for many nonviolent property and drug crimes.

“What Prop 47 did was take very low level crimes like petty theft, some petty drug offenses, petty larceny, and classify them as misdemeanors rather than felonies,” said Charis Kubrin, professor of criminology, law and society at the University of California, Irvine, who wrote a study examining the impact of the proposition on crime rates. “It doesn’t mean, like that Facebook post is saying, that you’re not prosecuted or that you aren’t committing a crime.”

According to Alex Bastian, special advisor to Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón who co-authored Prop 47, most shoplifting was already prosecuted as a misdemeanor anyway.

“What Prop 47 did is increase the dollar amount by which theft can be prosecuted as a felony from $400 to $950 to adjust for inflation and cost of living,” Bastian said. “But most shoplifting cases are under $400 dollars to begin with, so before Prop 47 and after Prop 47, there isn’t any difference.”

Proposition 47 was enacted to comply with a 2011 California Supreme Court order, which upheld that California’s overcrowded prisons violated incarcerated individuals’ Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment.

“In 2011, our prisons were bursting at the seams, and California was ranked either first or second behind Texas as having the highest per capita incarceration rate of any state in the country,” Kubrin said. “It was so bad that the Supreme Court stepped in and told us we needed to reduce our prison population by 33,000 individuals.”

“So the goal of Prop 47 was to limit our prison population, to reduce the number of people that we send to state prisons,” said Kubrin. “Prop 47 has achieved that goal while not causing crime rates to go up.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law Wednesday aimed at curbing organized retail theft, according to Associated Press reporting. The law allows prosecutors to seek to charge the offense as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

T.J. Maxx’s global media relations team did not respond to a request for comment, nor did store representatives.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536