A prominent county prosecutor is raising eyebrows after suggesting that the criminal justice system should weigh the “needs” of looters who are caught running from a storefront with stolen merchandise.
That legal policy came from Diane Becton, district attorney for Contra Costa County, California, a former judge who was elected D.A. in 2017, according to The New York Post.
Contra Costa, home to 1.1 million residents, is located just outside San Francisco.
Becton enacted the new written policy for investigators in her office, who must now consider if the theft was “substantially motivated by the state of emergency, or simply a theft offense which occurred contemporaneously to the declared state of emergency.”
Elsewhere in the written policy, it must be considered if the theft was “committed for financial gain or personal need.”
The controversial policy was first reported by East County Today, a local newspaper, and has been picked up by major media outlets such as the Post and Fox News.
"That's a bizarre formulation of the law," responds Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney based in San Francisco.
Becton took an oath that includes upholding California state law, Dhillon says, “and the need of the looter is not an element of the California criminal code."
Dhillon adds that it never has been part of the California criminal code.
"And I don't think it should be,” she warns, “because that's a very subjective determination and I don't think it is her place to make that time of determination."
Becton’s office has gone on the offensive after conservative media outlets picked up on the policy and surmised that the D.A. was treating criminals with a soft touch. That is not an unusual assumption since the D.A. prosecuting rioters in Portland, for example, has vowed not to prosecute them, and a lenient California law that ignores misdemeanor crimes is allowing criminals to brazenly steal and rob without fear of prosecution.
Asked for comment by OneNewsNow, the prosecutor’s office said the guidelines do not prohibit the police “from arresting someone for a crime,” though the policy guidelines appear to be aimed at her own office, not local law enforcement chasing looters down the street.
The D.A.’s office further stated:
It is really important to underscore these guidelines are because of the COVID-19 shelter in place given Governor Newsom's statewide order from March 4 to declare a state of emergency. We look at if the theft is because there is a state of emergency – or is this simply an offense contemporaneous to the state of emergency. We wanted to ensure consistency across the Office in considering any criminal charges for alleged violations of PC 463.
Historically, prior to COVID-19 – we could find no recent evidence that our Office had filed looting charges during a state of emergency.
"This is the same prosecutor who wrongfully charged two citizens who were engaged in painting over an expired art installation in the middle of the street, a Black Lives Matter mural, with a hate crime, which is blatantly not what the law provides for," Dhillon points out. "So, on the one hand, she's charging people with crimes that don't exist and, on the other hand, she's refusing to charge people who are committing crimes with those crimes on the basis of her own subjective opinion of need, which is not incorporated into California laws."