New proposal to increase penalties for bag and wallet thieves

Local News

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The aim behind a new proposal at the capitol is looking to up the penalties for wallet thieves and purse snatchers.

Last year thief Remik Ungeni was caught on camera stealing an elderly man’s wallet in Chinatown. He was charged with fourth degree theft, a petty misdemeanor. His sentence of 15 days in jail for the crime made many upset.

“You can see it in the group I can feel it in my group. They’re angry. They’re frustrated,” said Michael Kitchens, creator of Facebook group Stolen Stuff Hawaii. “The community’s tired of this. They want people to help them put these criminals away.”

Under a new proposal in the senate, stealing a wallet, purse or bag would be considered second degree theft, a felony. That could carry sentence of up to five years in prison.

“Theft second is a [class] C felony punishable for up to five years in prison. Theft fourth is a petty misdemeanor up to six months. So there’s a big difference,” said Acting Honolulu Prosecutor Dwight Nadamoto. He is backing the bill.

“It’s kind of like filling in loop holes in the law,” said Nadamoto. “It’s going to help protect our elders. It’s going to help the tourists.”

Right now, to be considered second degree theft, whatever is stolen must be worth at least $750.

“In order to charge a theft second, it has to be more than $750, and you have to prove that the individual who took it intended to steal or take more than $750,” said Nadamoto.

Under the bill, if a thief swipes an empty wallet, it would carry the same punishment.

“So I think anytime you change something, make it a little bit stricter, it helps. It really does,” said Kitchens. “Our community is suffering. They need support, and maybe this is one way to provide that.”

Nadamoto said he hopes lawmakers will consider expanding it to more than just wallets and bags.

“It could also be a fanny pack, which may not have been mentioned in the bill, so other things like maybe a brief case, which may have you know money or ID in it, and stuff like that,” said Nadamoto.

The hearing for bill will be held on Friday at the state capitol.

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