In recent months, California’s looting laws and arrests have drawn a great deal of national media attention.
Looting in California is addressed in the Penal Code 463 PC. According to the law, you can only be formally charged with looting in California if you commit some type of burglary while you’re in an area that has been officially declared a “state of emergency.” This means if you break into a grocery store, take a car, or commit something that’s normally considered petty theft in a section of town that has been ravished by an earthquake, burned in a wildfire, or is dealing with rioters, you’re not just stealing, your looting.
Looting is another one of California’s wobbler laws. The monetary value of whatever you stole determines whether you’ll be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. The type of charge impacts how severely you’re punished.
Felony looting in California could result in spending 16 months to three years in state prison. If you’re charged with a misdemeanor, the sentence could involve spending one year in county jail.
One California lawyers, Diane Becton, a Contra Costa County DA isn’t pleased with how California’s current looting laws don’t allow for any shades of gray. She’s quick to point out that there are times when looting shouldn’t be considered a crime. She created a policy that requires the prosecutors who work in her jurisdiction to consider all aspects of the looting before pursuing a criminal case. She wants the prosecutors to consider if the “looter” has needs that drove them to take advantage of the state of emergency.
While Becton has many fans who think her stance on California’s looting laws makes sense, others aren’t happy with how she’s handling the situation. They feel that she may be creating a situation where people who wouldn’t normally loot will consider it a viable option the next time they’re involved in a protest or in the middle of an unexpected disaster.