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Chief Deputy DA Chris Owen said the problem has skyrocketed after the Oregon Court of Appeals decided cases in 2014 and 2015

In the past two years, car thefts have increased by nearly 80 percent in Clackamas County — to the point where the district attorney is calling it an "epidemic."

PHOTO COURTESY: COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE - A chart showing car-theft cases referred for prosecution in Clackamas County. Chief Deputy DA Chris Owen said the problem has skyrocketed after the Oregon Court of Appeals decided cases in 2014 and 2015 that had a domino effect on the cases that would follow. Owen said the court determined that certain evidence that had been used for years to get convictions wasn't enough.

Facts like damage to the vehicle, presence of a "crime-committing kit," other stolen items in the car, drugs, not having registration or insurance cards are no longer enough to make the case.

That means without a confession, cases are very difficult to prosecute. Thieves essentially can claim they got the car from someone else and get away with it.

Voters passed Measure 57 in 2008, which increased the punishment for repeat property criminals. Before that, car thieves were not eligible for prison sentences until their fifth conviction.

Owen said the Oregon District Attorney Association has proposed legislation to fix the laws so cases can be more successfully prosecuted. So far, however, lawmakers have killed the bills. The DA's office said there are even signs legislators intend to roll back Measure 57.

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