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Since 2012 Oregonians have faced a steady uptick in automobile thefts but little justice for the victims.
In fact, the state frequently experiences around 42% more automobile thefts than the national average. Yet the conviction rate is extremely low.
For example, the Portland, Oregon District Attorney’s Office revealed only a 40% arrest to conviction rate between 2013 and 2015.
This year legislatures recognized the frustration of these statistics and, as a result, introduced a new Bill designed to address the problem.
Proponents of Oregon HB2328
In February 2019, the National insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) became one of the most recent organizations to announce its support of Oregon House Bill HB2328 which is currently under close review by lawmakers.
Many public officials, prosecutors, and law enforcement agencies are also in favor of HB2328 being passed so that it will close the current car theft loophole.
According to Ryan Lufkin, Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney, the existing law requires state prosecutors to prove beyond any reasonable doubt the suspected thief “knowingly” stole the automobile.
This language puts a steep burden on the State to essentially prove what the alleged car thief was thinking at the time of the theft.
It may be hard to believe but the victim reporting their car was taken without permission is not enough evidence to secure a conviction.
Lufkin claims even cases where defendants are caught while driving the stolen vehicle and in possession of a “crime commission kit” labeled box is still not enough to earn a guilty verdict.
The judicial system is basically held hostage by Oregon’s current law. As it stands now, a confession by the defendant is the only real way to make theft charges stick.
Obviously the number of guilty admissions by professional car thieves ends-up being extremely low.
This is why the Oregon House Bill HB2328 has clear language that leaves very little wiggle room when it comes to vehicular theft.
HB2328 modifies the current language by explicitly stating a person is culpable when they operate, exercise control over or otherwise use vehicles, boats or aircrafts without the authorized consent of the owner.
Oregon Car Thefts Up by 53 Percent
The statistics for Oregon’s car thefts are quite startling. Upon reviewing the numbers, it becomes clear why Oregon officials are anxious to revise the current laws and secure more convictions.
According to NICB’s “Annual Hot Spots Report”, Oregon experienced a 53 percent increase in auto thefts between 2012 and 2017.
In stark contrast, the FBI’s National Crime Information Center reports less than an 11 percent increase in vehicle thefts nationwide.
FBI statistics drill down further to the city of Portland, Oregon which is now ranked third among the nation’s highest number of auto thefts per capita.
The strange thing is Portland has been successful in both maintaining and decreasing other crime categories, except when it comes to car thefts.
Local news reports point out that no one is exempt from Portland’s epidemic of car thefts. Every Portland neighborhood is impacted by this troubling trend.
Police have concluded this major Pacific Northwest’s city is seeing a spike in auto thefts because they also face rampant drug abuse throughout Portland.
Vehicle Thefts Costs Oregonians A Lot
The widespread car thefts are obviously causing a lot of frustration for citizens and city officials. Part of this exasperation comes from the high price associated with vehicle thefts.
A 2016 FBI report shows the average cost of a stolen vehicle as $7,680.
If you consider Portland has experienced 9,634 stolen vehicles, which means collectively the citizens of Portland lost $73,989,120.
Keep in mind, that number is only the estimated total for lost vehicle values.
It doesn’t take into consideration all the other fiscal factors such as costs of replacements vehicles, lost wages for court appearances by victims, increased auto insurance premiums, and judicial processing fees.
Finally, we can’t forget that vehicle thefts also inflict an emotional cost on its victims and their neighbors.
Cars may be taken under violent circumstances (such as a “carjacking”). Plus there is also a growing network of criminal car rings making a lot of money from the stolen cars and then using that revenue to commit other types of crimes.
Waiting for the Vote
At this point, the Oregon House is in its regular sessions and actively reviewing the benefits of HB2328. If the legislation is passed then it could go into effect by the close of 2019.
However, not everyone is a fan of the bill.
Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (OCDLA) is critical of the proposed change. Specifically OCDLA has been outspoken about the language the bill uses.
OCDLA released a statement arguing HB2328 lowers the State’s burden of proof by shifting the burden to the defendant, removing the jury’s discretion, and unfairly commenting on the evidence.
Once the bill has its vote, Oregonians will finally know whether legislators agree with the critics or not.