March 27, 2017

Credit card information thief’s eligibility for reduced sentence under Prop. 47 depends on illegal market value analysis

In its second Proposition 47 opinion in four days, the Supreme Court holds that a person previously convicted of a felony for stealing access card account information, which includes credit and debit card information, can have his or her sentence reduced under the 2014 initiative, so long as the reasonable and fair market value of the stolen information is under $950.  The court’s unanimous opinion in People v. Romanowski — by Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar — concludes that stealing access card information is included in the category of crimes described by the proposition as “obtaining any property by theft.”  The initiative did not make “a distinction between tangible and intangible property,” the court says.

The court notes the difficulty in valuing the stolen information, especially since fraudulent use of access cards is a separate crime.  Rejecting both parties’ proposed solutions to the problem (which is not the first time the court has done this), the court concludes that a judge must “identify how much stolen access card information would sell for,” even though the information cannot be sold legally.  The opinion states that there should be no restriction on “looking at evidence of illegal market value.”

The opinion also includes a succinct, alliterative description of the scope of a grand theft statute:  “In sum, section 487 makes it grand theft to steal:  more than $950 worth of anything; more than $250 worth of the crops or critters listed in subdivision (b); anything at all from the victim’s person; or any cars or guns.”  A Westlaw search indicates that this is the first use of the word “critters” in a California Supreme Court opinion.

The court affirms the Second District, Division Eight, Court of Appeal.

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