SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – A thief who breaks into an unlocked car in California can not be charged with burglary, but a new bill is trying to close that loophole; however, the California Public Defenders Association worries this bill could unfairly target homeless people looking for shelter.

Senate Bill 23 advanced from the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday. It states:

“This bill would make entering a vehicle with the intent to commit a theft therein a crime punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for a period not to exceed one year or imprisonment in a county jail for 16 months, or 2 or 3 years. By creating a new crime, this bill would impose a state-mandated local program.”

The existing law “defines the crime of burglary to include entering a vehicle when the doors are locked with the intent to commit grand or petit (sic) larceny or a felony. Existing law makes the burglary of a vehicle punishable as a misdemeanor.”

The bill’s author says it is currently difficult for District Attorneys to take car break-ins to trial because the law requires proof that the car was locked, even if proof exists that the defendant smashed the car windows. The new law would change that to include “forcible, unlawful entry”, meaning DAs can prove a defendant committed an auto burglary by showing a broken car window.

The California Public Defenders Association opposes SB 23, writing in part:

“In an era where our streets are filled with homeless people looking for shelter from the elements this expansion of the prosecution and incarceration time for individuals who have not damaged a locking mechanism of the vehicle to gain entry could negatively impact those with the least of means.”

Law enforcement does suggest you always lock your car doors.