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State bill introduced to close unlocked door defense ‘loophole’ in car break-ins

passenger side car window shattered
State Sen. Scott Wiener has introduced a bill meant to close a legal loophole he argues makes it more difficult to prosecute car break-in thieves.  | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

State Sen. Scott Wiener has introduced a bill meant to close a legal loophole he argues makes it more difficult to prosecute car break-in thieves. 

SB 905, sponsored by San Francisco Mayor London Breed, is meant to remove what is known as the “locked door loophole” in auto theft cases. Under existing law, prosecutors are required to prove a vehicle was locked, in addition to proving that it was forcibly entered without permission. 

Proving a vehicle is locked means that victims must physically come to court to testify, which Wiener said can be an undue burden, particularly for those who temporarily visited San Francisco.

The bill would eliminate this requirement and make forcible entry into a vehicle with the intent to commit a theft as the trigger for a criminal case of auto burglary, which can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

Wiener has made two prior efforts to pass similar laws in the past, but both bills died in committee. 

“The locked door loophole is nonsensical,” Wiener said in a statement. “A victim of auto burglary should not be asked to testify that they locked the car door. It’s simply not relevant.”

The proposal comes as San Francisco grapples with a yearslong issue of rampant car break-ins. The city’s car break-in rate has exploded since 2010, outstripping other large California cities.

But elected officials have touted progress made on the issue. According to data on holiday season crime released by the city, San Francisco saw a 17% reduction in motor vehicle theft between Nov. 20 and Jan. 1, compared with the year prior. 

During a press conference in October at the Palace of Fine Arts where the proposal was initially unveiled, proponents characterized the bill as a "commonsense solution."

District Attorney Brooke Jenkins said at the press conference the measure will make it easier to prosecute suspected car thieves and that thieves often work in groups.

"It's become more brazen, more organized," Jenkins said. "They are no longer looking for whether a door is locked; they are using tools to break windows in seconds."

Jenkins said at the time there had been 15,000 reported auto burglaries in 2023 alone.

At the press conference, Police Chief Bill Scott said the number of reported break-in cases this year, 15,000, is likely an undercount and Wiener's measure will be an important part of fighting the problem.

"We need every available tool to make this problem better," Scott said. "We believe this bill will do that."

Kevin Truong can be reached at kevin@sfstandard.com