With a new proposal requiring at least 60 days in jail for car theft, Aurora is poised to pass what could be the toughest response to the crime in the state by adopting an ordinance that imposes mandatory minimum sentences.
At-large Councilmember Dustin Zvonek presented his proposal Thursday to City Council’s safety committee, which he chairs, before it goes to the full council for discussion on June 27.
The current proposal includes a 60-day mandatory sentence for car theft under the city’s existing ordinance, up to 120 days for repeat offenders, toughened penalties for theft of essential car parts, and a mandated 10 days in jail for missing a court appearance.
Zvonek brings the proposal to the City Council amid broad concerns about spiking auto thefts, citing three-year data showing an 86% increase in known thefts across Colorado and a 236% jump in Aurora from 2019 to 2021. He said Colorado topped the U.S. in car thefts per capita.
“Aurora is number one among number one, and that is not a place we want to be," he said.
The proposal includes a provision to sunset the ordinance in 2024 so the council can look at whether it has affected car thefts, and either renew the changes or let them expire.
The mandated jail time for failing to appear prompted pushback from Doug Wilson, Aurora’s municipal public defender, who said the current language of the proposal doesn’t carve out any exceptions for people who don’t intentionally miss a court date and that it also makes it confusing whether the 10 days in jail applies to witnesses, victims and law enforcement officers required to show up at a court date, as well as defendants. Wilson said mandatory jail time entitles a person to an attorney, which, he argued, would drive an increase in trials.
“It's basically a no-bond hold on somebody on a case that hasn't been resolved, unless you're charging it as a separate offense. And that no-bond hold isn't going to be constitutional under the Colorado [Supreme Court] or the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Zvonek said he would be open to revising that part of the proposal if necessary.
Wilson also criticized mandatory minimum sentences more generally, saying they don’t work as broad deterrents and they conflate individual deterrence with general deterrence.
“Yes, the guy is locked up, he's not going to steal another car. And then there's general deterrence that, if you lock someone up, the next guy is not going to steal a car. And that's part of the theory behind minimum mandatories. And there really isn't any data to support the general deterrence theory as it relates to that,” the public defender said.
Pete Schulte, an attorney for the city, said he doesn't necessarily disagree with Wilson’s points, but that the city’s rising car thefts make it urgent to try something to curb the problem.
“Something's got to give," he said. "The purpose of the legislation is to make it known – don’t be stealing cars in the city of Aurora.”
Ward Four Councilmember Juan Marcano said he thinks resources would be better spent addressing the social and economic factors that may drive people to steal cars. Though he doesn't disagree with the need for accountability, he also said he hopes council members may be able to come to a less harsh compromise than mandatory 60 days in jail for first-time offenders.
But Marcano praised the proposal’s inclusion of a directive for creating a fund to reimburse victims for impound fees and other costs when their cars are recovered.
"I fully agree that we need to actually elevate the voices of folks who are victims of motor vehicle theft," he said. "And I do like the resolution part of it, including a fund basically to help folks recover from being victimized.”