Wednesday, April 23 2014, 09:23 AM MDT
Police: New Utah Law, 'Revictimizes Victims' of Theft
By Matt Gephardt
Produced by Michelle Poe
Edited by Aaron Colborn
Photography by Michael Fessler, David Yost and Brian Morris
(KUTV) Dan and Anna Young's son has diabetes so they keep a supply of insulin in the fridge. To be prepared just in case the power goes out, they also bought a portable generator.
Last December, that generator was stolen from a storage shed behind their Centerville, Utah home. The Young's called Centerville Police and filed a report. Then in February, the police found the generator at the Cash America Pawn shop in Salt Lake City. Dan and Anna say they were thrilled until they learned they wouldn't be getting their property back right away.
“For us to get it back we'd have to buy it back," Dan says the police told him.
Dan and Anna can prove the generator is theirs; they still have the receipt and purchase papers showing the serial numbers match the generator found in the pawn shop.
“It feels like we're being victimized twice,” Anna said. “First we get it stolen and then we have to buy our own property back.”
“The laws are set up more to protect the pawn shop than the original owner,” Dan said.
Dan and Anna say they protested with the police but they were told that legally the pawn shop doesn't have to give their property back right away. With that, they decided to Get Gephardt to investigate.
Get Gephardt learned that a new Utah law seems to protect the pawn shops in situations where stolen property is found on their shelves. House Bill 175 was passed and signed into law a year ago and it gives pawn shops the power to "hold" the item until "a criminal prosecution is commenced." In other words, the pawn shop gets to keep the stolen item until the thief is found, arrested and convicted.
If the thief is never found then, after several months, the police can "seize" the property, the law says. After that, the case goes to court and a judge decides whether or not the victim gets their stolen property back.
If the victim wants their property back sooner, the law says they can buy it back from the pawn shop.
Sergeant Von Steenblick with the Centerville Police Department says the new law makes reuniting victims of theft and their property more difficult.
“The way the law reads now, it's a little more friendly to the pawn shops,” he said.
Steenblick says the old law would have allowed the police to get the generator back for the Young's about a month after it was found. Then the pawn shop, who bought the stolen property, could try to get restitution from the person that sold it to them.
“I feel for the victims,” Steenblick said. “The victims had their property stolen. It's recovered but yet they can't use their property…they're just victimized again."
State Representative Jennifer Seelig sponsored HB 175. She says the old law dealing with stolen and pawned property was confusing. She says HB 175 spells out the rights and responsibilities for pawn shops, police and victims.
"We certainly never intended to put victims at a greater disadvantage," Seelig said. "We wanted to ensure that we were limiting transactions involving stolen property to begin with, that we would help protect victim’s rights and that we would also create a stable business environment for merchants."
Seelig says it's “important” the original property owner and property get reunited but it is “really important” that victims, police and pawn shops have a clear expectation of the process too and that the process is reasonable.
As for Dan and Anna, they refused to pay to get their stolen generator back and instead decided to go the legal route to recover it. They waited three months while Cash America Pawn held it. Then, when the Centerville Police seized the generator, the pawn shop opted not to fight further, Anna told Get Gephardt. The case will not go to court. Centerville Police returned the generator to Dan and Anna.
Get Gephardt called Cash America Pawn to ask if they would like to comment for this story. Our call was not returned.
(Copyright 2013 Sinclair Broadcasting Group)