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Michigan House votes to ban car theft tools

Car tire
Car tire

Owning tools designed to break into a car with the intent of stealing it could become a felony in Michigan. That’s under bills that passed the state House of Representatives Wednesday.

The package would apply to devices like auto pro pads, which can be used to program key fobs to start a car engine. A 1966 state law bans motor vehicle master keys except for by mechanics, law enforcement, and locksmiths.

Co-sponsor Democratic RepresentativeAlabas Farhat (D-Dearborn) said it’s time to update its anti-theft laws to reflect changes in technology.

“We’re taking a real step towards criminalizing these devices,” Farhat said. “You can buy them online for a thousand bucks, suddenly you can open any car, any make any model, and drive right off from somebody’s driveway in less than 60 seconds.”

Both car theft, and owning burglary tools with the intent of stealing, are already illegal in Michigan.

Representative Dylan Wegela (D-Garden City), who voted against the package, said he worries about unintended consequences.

“We get into some really difficult territory when we talk about legislating intent versus the actual action. It’s already a felony to steal a car. So, I have just concerns over how this law would be implemented in different communities, specifically communities of color,” Wegela said.

Under the bills, possessing a tool with the intent to steal a car would be punishable by up to five years in prison.

That sentence would double to 10 years if those tools were used for car theft as part of a “criminal organization.”

The legislation received bipartisan support as well as bipartisan opposition.

Wegela expressed concerns over what the implications of adding punishments could be.

“Are we getting into a place where people who didn’t commit a crime yet could be punished for something they haven’t done yet?” Wegela said.

But Farhat said there are protections in the bills to keep that from happening.

“You have to have intent to steal. So, that’s if somebody’s in the driver’s seat using it to steal or something, or gets caught with it. That’s very important so we’re not going after people needlessly,” he said.

To be found guilty under the package, a tool would have to be designed to open or start a car, a person would have to knowingly possess it, and they’d have to possess it with the intent of stealing a motor vehicle.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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