Questions about legal system arise after non-prosecution of car theft, burglary case

A man was arrested inside a stolen car last weekend, and yet he was released without charges.

After prosecutors told us why, we’re pressing them for more answers on how many car theft cases actually go to trial.

The victim — who didn’t want to be identified — told us that his car was stolen after someone broke into his house and took his car keys. Honolulu police arrested a man found in the vehicle with the car keys, but prosecutors said there was not enough evidence to charge him. There were no fingerprints or witnesses to show that the man arrested was the one driving the car.

The victim also told us that police officers are frustrated because this is happening too often.

We’ve asked the Honolulu Police Dept. for the number of car theft arrests they have made, and we’re finding out out how many are actually charged for that crime.

As for the case we reported on Friday, the victim said he’s not happy that no one was charged. His car was damaged because police said it was involved in a hit-and-run.


UH law school faculty member Ken Lawson agrees that proving the hit-and-run would be hard without a witness. “Without any evidence of who was actually driving the automobile at the time of the accident, the hit-and-run, who’s going to be able to come to court to say ‘yes, this individual that was subsequently found in the automobile is actually the person that hit me,” he said.

The prosecutor’s office adds that the suspect was sitting in the car with the engine turned off when he was arrested. Lawson tells us that’s should be enough evidence to charge the suspect with car theft.

“You’re in an automobile that’s been reported stolen when the police approach. You’re still in that automobile. You’re not driving it, but I can make an inference that you’ve been operating the motor vehicle and you didn’t have the authority to be inside of it. I can bring a charge against you.”

At the very least, the charge could be “Unauthorized Entry Into a Motor Vehicle.” The victim tells us that his wallet was also stolen during the burglary and the credit card statement shows it was used just before police made the arrest.

We’ve asked the prosecutor’s office about the charge and credit card theft, but at this point there’s been no response. The victim tells us that the credit card was used at a 7-11 just a couple of hours before the arrest and Lawson tells us that shows more proof for the burglary case.

“You can track down who used the credit card if the 7-11 store has video cameras,” he said. “I believe they do.”

On Friday when we first reported this case, we asked HPD for the number of arrests for car theft. The number they gave us was for reported cases, so we’re still working on getting the number of arrests and cases that have been prosecuted.

We’ve also reached out to other counties so we can compare them. We will let you know as soon as we get them.

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