Senate votes to close Oregon’s stolen car loophole

SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Senate passed House Bill 2328 which would close the state’s stolen car loophole.

KGW first reported in March about how the defendant could say they didn’t know the car they were driving was stolen and not get prosecuted.

Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson (D-Gresham), a chief co-sponsor of the bill, said word spread and car theft rates skyrocketed.

“Police in my district report that care thieves have become shrewd about what to say when they encounter police. In Gresham, for example, officers regularly encounter suspects in cars with clear evidence of theft who merely claim to be ‘borrowing’ the vehicle from a friend or acquaintance. In such cases, even when an arrest is made, police officers are regularly frustrated to learn that the suspect was released from jail days or even hours after the arrest due to insufficient evidence under the new mental state burden, as defined in court. Without an affirmative statement from the suspect demonstrating that they knew they didn’t have permission to use the car, prosecutors are unlikely to take the case as it is unlikely to win in court. This is Oregon’s so-called vehicle theft loophole.”

Oregon saw a 53% increase in stolen cars between 2012 and 2017, according to data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

"It reached epidemic proportions," said Clackamas County chief deputy district attorney Chris Owen.

Owen blamed two Oregon Court of Appeals cases from 2014 and 2015 for making it extremely difficult to prosecute car theft cases.

"What the Court of Appeals has said, even the strongest circumstantial case isn't going to be enough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt," Owen said.

In one case, State v. Ship, 264 Or. App. 391 (2014), the defendant was caught by police in a stolen car, with tools to steal the car including bolt cutters and a case labeled "crime committing kit."

And in the second case, State v. Korth 269 Or. App. 238 (2015), the defendant was also caught in a stolen car but told officers he borrowed it from a friend of a friend.

In both cases, the court determined, the state did not prove the person had knowingly taken a stolen vehicle.

According to a release by the Senate Majority Office, the bill also provides that a person who knowingly rides in another person’s vehicle without the owner’s or authorized user’s consent also is guilty of Unlawful Use of a Vehicle.

HB 2328 now heads to Gov. Kate Brown’s desk.

“This is a good bill that will help hold more people who steal cars accountable for their actions,” said Sen. James Manning (D-Eugene), who carried the bill on the Senate floor today. “When people commit crimes like these, they shouldn’t just be let off the hook by saying they didn’t know, when they did or should have. This bill is fair and will hold people accountable when they attempt to take things that aren’t theirs.”

Author: Cristin Severance / KGW8

Published: 06/20/19