Denver DA’s office: Yes, we’ll still prosecute you for stealing an unlocked car

I called DA Mitch Morrissey’s office to ask if he really declined cases based on the presence/absence of keys in the car.
2 min. read
Parallel-parked cars in City Park West. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A Denver police officer recently posted a helpful but mildly controversial message to NextDoor, the local social network.

Officer Snow White noted that the downtown Denver police district is investigating at least 15 cases of car theft where the victims had left keys in unlocked vehicles.

And in a couple cases, she wrote, the district attorney was refusing to press charges.

"It seems to be a popular idea to park your car in a 'secured' parking garage, then just throw the keys in the console or glove box," White noted. The thieves tend to trash the cars before abandoning them, she wrote. (These thefts have happened over several months, according to police spokeswoman Christine Downs.)

Officers had arrested a few suspects, White wrote, but "the District Attorney will not accept charges because the keys were left in the car."

To be clear, it is still illegal to steal a car, no matter how easy it is. The key question is: Does the car belong to you?

I called DA Mitch Morrissey's office to ask if he really declined cases based on the presence/absence of keys in the car.

"That is a categorical statement that is not fully accurate," said staffer Maro Casparian. In other words, she was saying, there is no policy that says these cases can't be prosecuted. However, the DA's office will decline a case if it doesn't think it has evidence.

"In this particular theft situation, is it more or less easy? The global statement is we don’t take a case … unless we can prove it," she said. I asked, but she didn't elaborate on whether it's more difficult to prosecute thefts when no break-in occurred.

She did say that this kind of thing tends to spike this time of year, when people leave their cars running, or "puffing."

So, don't do that.

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