DA's office has tough time prosecuting vehicle theft suspects

Published: Jul. 19, 2017 at 9:33 PM AKDT
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Vehicle thefts in Anchorage are on the rise and the District Attorney is having a hard time bringing those responsible to justice.

From the start of the year through the month of May, APD says 1,141 vehicles have been reported stolen in Anchorage. That number has dramatically increased since 2015, when 1,225 vehicles were reported stolen for the entire year, and 2,117 in 2016.

Vehicle theft in the first degree is a class C felony. It carries with it a penalty of up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $50,000, but for first-time offenders, the sentence is often suspended.

District Attorney Clint Campion says there are two components to Alaska's vehicle theft law. First, the defendant must have knowingly driven the vehicle, which Campion says is the easy part. He says it's the second component, proving that the person driving the stolen car, is the same person who stole it, that is much tougher.

"It's not uncommon for these vehicles once they're stolen to pass through several people's hands once they're stolen," said Campion. "What we often see are a person stopped in a stolen vehicle and they'll have an explanation that they got the car from a friend or bought the car off Craigslist, or they're just borrowing the car. We're working closely with police to penetrate that explanation and to look for things that would make that look unreasonable."

Campion says the DA's office is working together with APD to make sure potential vehicle theft suspects are charged. He says what they are striving for is to make sure police officers are armed with concepts to be able to ask right questions to be able to deliver cases the DA can take to a jury.

"As a prosecutor I believe strongly in general deterrence," Campion said. "That is, we can't catch everyone that commits a crime. We can't prosecute everyone that commits a crime. But there has to be a perception that when you commit a crime that you might get caught and if you get caught you're going to get punished."