California DA requires department to assess 'personal need' of suspect before filing looting charge

The district attorney in her first term is creating new guidelines with a goal of "advancing racial equity-minded policies."

Updated: September 3, 2020 - 1:06pm

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A district attorney in Northern California is recommending that in considering looting charges in Black Lives Matters protests, her prosecutors weigh whether those accused of the acts did them for "personal need." 

The recommendations are being made by Diana Becton, the district attorney for Contra Costa County. 

In California, "looting" is defined as taking advantage of a state of emergency to commit burglary, grand theft, or petty theft. Looting charges may be filed as a misdemeanor or a felony and may be punishable by up to three years in jail.

In a recent op-ed for Politico, Becton, along with four other female black district attorneys, including St. Louis' Kim Gardner and Chicago's Kim Foxx, wrote, "It is our moral and ethical duty to start advancing racial equity-minded policies."

Becton argues prosecutors must consider whether alleged looting was committed "for financial gain or personal need" to "promote consistent and equitable filing practices."

Becton's full guidelines for charging an individual with looting are:

1. 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?

a. Factors to consider in making this determination:

i. Was the target business open or closed to the public during the state of emergency?
ii. What was the manner and means by which the suspect gained entry to the business?
iii. What was the nature/quantity/value of the goods targeted?
iv. Was the theft committed for financial gain or personal need?
v. Is there an articulable reason why another statute wouldn’t adequately address the particular incident?