DA Kellner pushes for stricter penalties for motor vehicle thefts

Heather Willard

Photo by18th Judicial District Attorney on Facebook

Heather Willard / NewsBreak Denver / Jan. 26, 2023

(Centennial, Colo.) 18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner plans to push Colorado’s legislators to eliminate value-based charges and enact stricter penalties for motor vehicle thefts.

During his first quarter town hall live stream on Jan. 25, Kellner told his constituents that cracking down on motor vehicle thefts is his top priority. The number of car thefts has increased sharply and is increasingly combined with other crimes like identity theft, burglary, and controlled substance possession.

According to data from the Colorado Bureau of Investigations, of the reported 39,654 stolen vehicles in Colorado during 2022, 26,576 were recovered, or about 67%. The rate has declined from 2021, where about 70% of stolen cars were found.

Kellner also advocated for removing “value-based” charging, which creates a range from a Class 3 felony for a vehicle worth over $20,000 to a Class 1 misdemeanor for cars worth under $1,000. He noted that criminals’ reasons for vehicle thefts have changed from largely stealing expensive cars and taking them to a “chop shop” to now largely being used as a mode of evasion or aid in other crimes, like aggravated assaults and burglaries.

“We are talking about people who are stealing cars to take whatever is not bolted down inside of them, to live in them oftentimes for 2-3 days, and drive them until they run out of gas and maybe trade them for another stolen car, or for drugs, or to simply ditch them and steal another car,” Kellner said.

The District Attorney noted that someone with a more expensive car likely has more resources than someone with a less expensive car, but the wealthier victim could see the perpetrator experience a much higher penalty.

“I oftentimes wonder, which of those two people who had their car stolen can actually handle that loss more?” Kellner said.

Kellner said all members of the District Attorneys Council worked on a bill he presented to remove value-based charging and increase penalties.

“Is it going to be a one and done solution? Absolutely not,” Kellner explained, noting he believes personal recognizance bonds also need to be reformed around this issue, among other factors.

Kellner also seeks to crack down on “ghost guns” — guns produced with no serial number, many built of kits available online. The origin of the guns are often untraceable, and current laws do not address guns that have not ever had a serial number. Laws instead address guns that have had their serial number removed, Kellner said.

The District Attorney also said he will push legislators to expand the DNA collection rules surrounding arrested suspects. Currently, under Katie’s Law, all suspects arrested for a felony have DNA collected. Kellner said he wants to expand this to misdemeanor suspects as well.

Kellner ended the town hall by additionally advocating for

  • “Truth in sentencing” by mandating that anyone convicted of first-degree assault, kidnapping, burglary, arson, aggravated robbery, second-degree murder and sex offenders serve at least 85% of their sentence before they can be eligible for parole;
  • Amending the laws surrounding possession of a weapon by a previous offender to include distribution of controlled substances and motor vehicle thefts
  • Amending “arbitrary” bed space limits for juvenile offenders.

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Public safety reporter in DougCo, Denver metro. Previously: Pueblo Chieftain public safety reporter, Athens Messenger associate editor. Caffeine fiend, cat mom and lover of all things spooky.

Broomfield, CO

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