Lawmakers in Florida want to penalize drivers who have had their car stolen if the vehicle was unattended with the keys in it when the thief took it, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
A new bill under review in the state would make it a second-degree misdemeanor “to leave your car unattended without first stopping the engine, locking the ignition and taking the key from the car.”
Drivers found guilty under the proposed law would be criminally charged, and face a fine of up to $500 US and as many as 60 days in jail.
While the legislators see it as a measure discouraging people from making a theft easier than it might be otherwise, local officials and law enforcement are opposing the bill, saying it punishes people who have already been victimized and may lead to people not reporting thefts or lying about them in order not to be charged.
Leaving your running vehicle unattended already nets you a ticket in most parts of Florida, but police often waive those citations once a car has already been stolen.
The state has seen the number of car thefts, especially by juveniles, shoot up drastically over the past few years, with one county, Pinellas, seeing 499 car-theft-by-youths arrests in 2015; the Tampa Bay Times suggested most of those thefts were of vehicles left running unattended.
The intent behind the proposed law is meant to bring those numbers down, but instead police fear it will sow distrust and set a poor precedent.
“Where do we stop?” queries Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “If you leave your front door unlocked and someone breaks into your house, are you now going to be guilty of a crime?”
On the other side of the country, the California Supreme Court recently ruled a felony car theft conviction can be reduced to a misdemeanor if the vehicle stolen was worth less than $950.
The decision was made contrary to rulings issued by lower courts, reports the L.A. Times, and reflects a new interpretation of a 2014 measure “that reduced felonies for certain drug and theft crimes to misdemeanors.”
(Tampa Bay Times via TTAC)