California Senator Seeks to Change State Law Requiring Proof of Locked Doors in Car Break-Ins

California Senator Seeks to Change State Law Requiring Proof of Locked Doors in Car Break-Ins

A car with a smashed window in Los Angeles on May 16, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Travis Gillmore

Travis Gillmore

10/31/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

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California state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) says he plans to introduce legislation in 2024 to make it easier to prosecute auto break-ins, especially in places such as San Francisco, where more than 15,000 vehicle burglaries have occurred this year.
“This is a commonsense measure to address an issue that has been plaguing San Francisco for a long time,” he said on Oct. 26 at a news conference. “Residents should not have to fear leaving their car on the street for two minutes, and tourists should leave San Francisco with happy memories instead of trauma and frustration.”
Prosecutors are hampered by the legal definition of auto burglary, which requires proof that a vehicle was locked in order to qualify for a conviction, Mr. Wiener said.
That creates a burden of proof that’s difficult to obtain as those who are affected, including tourists who live thousands of miles away, must testify in person—sometimes weeks or months after the crime—that their vehicle’s doors were locked.
“San Francisco’s high rate of car break-ins is unacceptable, and current law adds senseless barriers to holding auto burglars accountable,” Mr. Wiener posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Oct. 27. “This dumb ‘locked door’ requirement is a huge obstacle.”
The state’s Court of Appeals has repeatedly upheld the existing legal definition, noting the “key element of auto burglary is that the doors be locked” in its prior decisions.
In an aerial view, cars and tables fill a parking lot next to a restaurant and bay cruise terminal at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf tourist destination on June 14, 2021. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In an aerial view, cars and tables fill a parking lot next to a restaurant and bay cruise terminal at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf tourist destination on June 14, 2021. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“My legislation eliminates this needless requirement so forcible entry is sufficient to prove an auto burglary crime,” Mr. Wiener stated.
Such a change is needed to aid prosecutors in their struggle against auto thieves, according to San Francisco Mayor London Breed.
“Our police officers are working hard every day to disrupt auto break-ins, and they are making progress,” Ms. Breed posted on X on Oct. 27. “But we need more tools to disrupt and prosecute the organized theft rings targeting our city, especially in our tourist areas.”
Criminals who commit auto burglary crimes must face significant consequences to stop the recent trend, she said.
“This important bill ... will give our district attorney the ability to more aggressively prosecute these cases and send a message that if you break into cars in this city, you will be held accountable,” Ms. Breed wrote.
San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins also acknowledged the difficulty of proving that doors were locked, resulting in fewer than 100 convictions so far this year.
“It oftentimes is a real challenge in the courtroom,” Ms. Jenkins said at the news conference. “And it’s a challenge to us being able to effectively prosecute crime that we know plagues San Francisco.”
San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins attends an event in San Francisco on Oct. 23, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins attends an event in San Francisco on Oct. 23, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Noting the level of detail that’s required to overcome the locked-door burden, she said that cases are at times dismissed because of a lack of sufficient evidence.
“My prosecutors could go into court today even having an eyewitness to an auto burglary, but without having an individual who owns or possesses the car say they locked the doors, could be required to dismiss the case,” Ms. Jenkins said.
Mr. Wiener’s legislation won’t be his first attempt to address the issue. He introduced a similar proposal, Senate Bill 916, in 2018, but it failed to advance.
A second measure of his, Senate Bill 23, introduced in 2019, again sought to remove the locked-door requirement, and while it passed in the Senate, the Assembly Appropriations Committee ultimately stalled the proposal.
Committee staff had included the theory that incarceration is ineffective in prior legislative analyses, citing several studies over the past 10 years that demonstrated that threats of incarceration had little effect on the reduction of crime.
A proposal introduced in 1997, Assembly Bill 476, authored by former Assemblyman Steven Kuykendall (R-Rancho Palos Verdes) also sought similar action but failed to advance out of the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
Critics of earlier proposals also pointed to cost increases for courts and state expenses for incarcerating those who are convicted, with some concerned that expanding the definition of the crime would result in a significant increase in the inmate population.
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Travis Gillmore

Travis Gillmore

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Travis Gillmore is an avid reader and journalism connoisseur based in California covering finance, politics, the State Capitol, and breaking news for The Epoch Times.

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