By Michele Hanisee
If you had any doubts that many elected state leadership in Sacramento could care less about victims and adamantly oppose even the most common sense solutions to crime, proof was again provided via SB 916 which died in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
This bill was proposed by San Francisco area Senator Scott Weiner to help address the car burglary problem plaguing that city. The problem is horrendous: in 2017 there were 31,122 car burglaries reported in San Francisco, a crime rate that was at least four times higher than in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, or Sacramento.
A central element of the crime of auto burglary is proof beyond a reasonable doubt the vehicle was locked at the time of entry, meaning testimony of the victim is required. A broken window is circumstantial evidence a vehicle was locked, but problematic since post window smash, burglars often reach in and unlock the door to make entry and leave the car in an unlocked condition to be discovered by the victim or police. As a local columnist wrote, “In San Francisco, car break-ins disproportionately strike tourists, who aren’t exactly lining up to pay to fly back to the city where their belongings were swiped to testify in court about it.”
Weiner’s bill addressed this issue by making it a crime to “forcibly enter” a vehicle, allowing a prosecutor to show a forcible entry by proving a door was locked or in the alternative, a window was broken. The new crime, punishable as a felony or misdemeanor, was a common-sense fix which received no formal opposition.
Yet, this bill died in the Senate Appropriations Committee without any formal vote. The author told the San Francisco Chronicle: “We had essentially no opposition to it. But there’s a strong belief not just in the Legislature, but by the governor too, that we should be cautious about expanding criminal liability.”
Noteworthy was the analysis by staff from the Senate Appropriation Committee who wrung their hands in worry that if “even one additional defendant is committed to state prison as a result of this bill, state incarceration costs would surpass the Suspense File threshold” and “could result in an increase of the inmate population in in-state institutions and exacerbate overcrowding.” Of course, “even one defendant” could still be sent to prison in a car burglary prosecution if a victim chose to suffer travel expenses and time away from work to return to San Francisco to testify that their car door was locked. The impacts on the victim (or cost to a DA’s office if some expenses were reimbursed) were of no concern to the staff analysts.
This sordid episode demonstrates once again why we have strongly supported the “Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018.” The fixes to flawed laws and initiatives will have to come from the voters because those elected to office refuse to make even the most common-sense fixes.
Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.