Prosecutors in a California county are being told to take into account the “need” of people accused of looting when deciding whether to file charges.
New guidelines tell prosecutors at the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office to consider: “Was this theft offense substantially motivated by the state of emergency, or simply a theft offense which occurred contemporaneous to the declared state of emergency?”
Prosecutors should consider whether the business was open or closed when it was looted, how the suspect gained entry to the business, and the nature, quantity, and value of the goods stolen.
The new guidelines ask: “Was the theft was [sic] committed for financial gain or personal need?”
The district attorney’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story.
District Attorney Diana Becton, a Democrat who received financial backing from left-wing billionaire George Soros, entered office in 2017 before winning re-election.
Scott Alonso, a spokesman for the office, told East County Today that the guidelines were put in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These guidelines are consistent with how we evaluate criminal cases. The policy does not say we won’t file these types of cases,” he said.
Both Antioch Mayor Sean Wright and Steve Aiello, president of the local police union, spoke out about the new guidelines.
“I am disturbed by our Contra Costa County District Attorney’s announcement that our police officers must consider if looters ‘needed’ stolen property before they can charge them with looting. Our DA is the first and only DA in the nation urging this kind of guidance,” Wright said in a statement.
“Looting that takes place in times of emergency, such as we are going through, is against the law. According to our DA, if the looters ‘need’ an item in a retail shop, for example, it is OK for them to take that item without being charged. I don’t agree with this approach—do you?”
According to California state law, any person who commits second-degree burglary during a county in a state or emergency “shall be guilty of the crime of looting, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for one year.”
Widespread looting has taken place during the pandemic in Contra Costa County.
Things got so bad in late May and early June that David Livingston, the county’s sheriff, told all residents to stay inside from 8 p.m. one night to 5 a.m. the next morning.
Approximately 100 people banded together to loot a Best Buy on May 31, the Pleasant Hill Police Department said in a statement. Thieves smashed windows at the Best Buy and three other stores before looting them.
Becton and four other prosecutors wrote in a recent op-ed that they were committing to “using our office’s power and platform to advance discussions of divestment from the criminal legal system and toward community-led and community-defined responses to harm.”
“Strong community support, restorative justice practices and diversion practices are key to dismantling the current legal system and shifting its focus from punishment toward justice,” they wrote.
Becton said in her celebratory announcement after winning the election that she supports “a criminal justice system that not only holds people accountable for their crimes, but also seeks to divert nonviolent, low-level offenders away from continued criminal activity and supports them to become productive members of society.”