Petty With a Prior? Better Call Saul.
Oh hello, I was just working on a multi-million dollar lawsuit for one of my clients… I know what you’re thinking: “I just watched Better Call Saul on AMC Monday night and had some legal questions.”
The Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul, centered around breakout lawyer character Saul Goodman in the time before Breaking Bad when he was still Jimmy McGill and building his practice, premiered with two episodes on Sun. and Mon. nights. I’m already a fan. I liked Breaking Bad and as many of you know, I like TV lawyer characters (I’m waiting for someone to pick up my semi-reality pilot, Call Me, Attorney D). I can’t say I have much in common with Jimmy, although I did see some parallels during the second half of the second episode when he is hustling in the courthouse handling criminal cases, drinking vending machine coffee (I prefer McDonald’s and Cumberland Farms $0.99 deals) and dealing with court parking.
The most realistic series of scenes was Jimmy’s attempts to negotiate with the prosecutor. The prosecutor consistently responded with, “Petty with a prior” as his standing offer. I figured that referred to a persistent offender scheme and looked it up after the show. While the show takes place in New Mexico, “Petty with a prior” seems to be the colloquial term for “Petty theft with a prior,” which is a California law that allows for subesquent minor theft convictions to be punished more seriously than their typical authorized sentences. The setting of Saul notwithstanding, screenwriters tend to be in or from Hollywood, so California law and terminology make their way into all different fictional settings.
Connecticut has its own set of persistent offender statutes, including Persistent Dangerous Felony Offender, Persistent Serious Felony Offender, Persistent Serious Sexual Offender and, for the purpose of this post, Persistent Larceny Offender (PLO). Connecticut uses the term larceny instead of theft and degrees of larceny are based on the value of the property alleged to have been stolen. Larceny 1st, 2nd and 3rd are felonies (punishable by a year or more of jail) and Larceny 4th, 5th and 6th are misdemeanors (punishable by up to a year in jail). Our PLO law provides that when a person already has two prior larceny convictions, he or she can face the punishment of a D felony (5 years jail) for a subsequent misdemeanor larceny (looks like a “three strikes” law, doesn’t it?). The State must charge the persistent status in a Part B information. Persistent offender laws give prosecutors more clout in negotiating plea deals. PLO eligibility very quickly raises the stakes on what might look like a small crime. Criminal charges, with a possible loss of liberty and collateral consequences, are never small.
If you are facing criminal charges, whether they be for larceny, meth or having an illegal tiger, you know who to call…