It may not be a crime to ask the grocer about his Peruvian oranges. But then again, as the 4th District Court of Appeal found Monday, it all depends on why you are asking.
Santa Ana grocer Randolph Navarette not long ago got some questions about his oranges from a young woman while a companion was questioning a store clerk about other produce. Then two young men with them asked where the restroom was but did not use it.
Navarette noticed that there were at least a dozen in the group altogether. It was the old Peruvian orange-shoplifting diversion. Navarette was so sure he had been a victim of theft that he followed the group as they walked down to a second market a short distance away.
He saw three women from the group target the butcher with price inquiries. Then they left with the others without a purchase. Navarette called police. It turned out that there were five carloads of people altogether.
Police managed to stop two cars. Each was loaded with stolen merchandise.
A minor was one of those ultimately convicted in the thefts. She alleged in an appeal that she was guilty of nothing more than asking a few consumer questions. But the appellate court in Santa Ana, in a unanimous opinion written by Justice Edward J. Wallin, said it was clear that she had been one of the "diversion" group that allowed others to steal from the stores.
"The (lower court) could reasonably infer intent from her conduct," Wallin wrote.
Prosecutors brought in a police expert to testify about the use of diversionary tactics in store thefts. But in this case, Wallin wrote, her actions were so clear that the expert was not necessary.