People who steal cars in Aurora and get caught can expect to face longer jail time than the rest of the state after the City Council passed new mandatory minimums in its municipal code.
Councilman Dustin Zvonek said he wants to combat the rise in motor vehicle thefts across the city by making Aurora the most punitive city for these thefts and this is a plan that he has worked on with Aurora Police Department interim chief Dan Oates.
In an interview, Zvonek said Aurora police plan to have a special unit that makes one of its focuses motor vehicle theft, something similar to what Oates did when he was in Aurora in 2004-05 when there was an increase in thefts.
The ordinance is expected to take effect 30 days from Monday night’s 6-4 vote, with progressive council members Juan Marcano, Alison Coombs, Crystal Murillo and Ruben Medina voting against the measure. Amendments to table the ordinance until a fiscal analysis is conducted and to amend language related to jail time for failure to appear in court were rejected by the majority of council members. The public defender’s office also opposed the measure.
People convicted or who have pleaded guilty or no contest to stealing cars in Aurora for the first time will face mandatory minimum of 60 days in jail — the first 72 hours in the city jail, the maximum allowed, and the rest in county jail. If the person is a “repeat offender,” the mandatory minimum jail sentence will be 120 days. This would only apply to misdemeanor chargers, not felonies for crimes that have aggravating factors such as the use of a weapon or assault.
Fines paid by defendants will be used toward paying for victims to retrieve their cars from impound lots.
If a person fails to appear for court, they will face a mandatory 10-day jail sentence. The ordinance also increases penalties for stealing major car parts, including catalytic converters, incidences of which have also increased in Aurora. It would allow for up to a $2,650 fine jail for up to 364 days.
The mandatory jail minimums are expected to sunset within two years, unless a future City Council decides to keep it.
Zvonek told The Denver Post that he hopes other cities will follow in Aurora’s footsteps and that some have already contacted the city attorney’s office to get advice on language for their own ordinances. He expects that these new penalties will result in more car thefts in surrounding cities and he hopes that will ultimately lead to the state legislature revisiting penalties for such crimes that it has lessened over the years.
“If we can bend the curve, it will have a greater impact than just for people whose cars have been stolen,” Zvonek said, noting that many times, other crimes are committed in stolen vehicles, leading to additional victims.
“Our state has made so a number of crimes more permissive and this led to a skyrocketing number of motor vehicle thefts across our state and across our city,” he told council members on Monday. “And so this ordinance is an attempt for us to begin to take action to make Aurora safer.”
According to city data, Aurora saw a 239% increase in motor vehicle thefts in 2021 (5,500) compared with 2019, and a 25% increase year-to-date by May of this year as compared to last year.
Council members who opposed the changes, including the mandatory minimum for failure to appear for court dates, questioned whether other cities have similar mandatory minimums for failure to appear.
Marcano proposed that the ordinance to include a mens rea clause — requiring intention of wrongdoing to penalize someone with the jail sentence — because the mandatory sentence for failure to appear would apply to other crimes as well, including petty offenses. He worried that it could lead to lawsuits. Chief Public Defender Douglas Wilson said he believed without the clause, it would be unconstitutional.
But the city attorney’s office interpreted it differently, saying this type of crime does not require that.
“The bigger issue on whether or not they appear in court is the fact that they allegedly stole a vehicle in the first place,” Councilwoman Danielle Jurinksy said. “So if you don’t want to be in this predicament in the first place the message from Aurora, Colorado: Don’t steal a car here. That’s it.”
Most members also rejected Coombs’ request to postpone the vote until a full fiscal analysis could be conducted. She said both prosecutors and the courts are understaffed as is and they can’t just find the money, but Zvonek said he’s had conversations with the prosecutors’ office and presiding judge and they will be able to handle the costs.
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