Focus on New Laws: Catalytic Converter Theft

July 24, 2023

New law establishes penalties for unauthorized possession of a catalytic converter and requirements for scrap metal dealers.

In the 2023 legislative session, a new law was enacted to establish criminal penalties for unauthorized possession of catalytic converters and only allow registered scrap metal dealers to purchase detached converters. Chapter 15 was signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz on March 16, 2023, and will go into effect on Aug. 1, 2023.

Catalytic converters are a portion of a vehicle’s exhaust system that filters out certain byproducts to reduce harmful emissions. They contain precious metals, such as platinum, palladium, and rhodium, which have made catalytic converters a target for thieves who cut them out from underneath vehicles.

Catalytic converter theft has been an issue troubling cities across the state for several years, with cases rising into the thousands each year. The inconvenience and cost of replacement, which is typically in the thousands of dollars, is a significant burden on residents who experience catalytic converter theft.

Catalytic converter theft has also been a challenge for law enforcement. Without actively catching a thief in the act of removing a catalytic converter, there was little that law enforcement could do to prove and prosecute theft cases.

New requirements

Under the framework established in the new law, a detached catalytic converter must be marked with the vehicle identification number of the vehicle it came from and the date it was removed.

Only registered scrap metal dealers are allowed to purchase detached catalytic converters. They must ensure the converter is marked and require the seller to provide documentation demonstrating ownership, such as a vehicle title or registration. Scrap metal dealers are also required to maintain records of transactions and make information available to law enforcement.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety and law enforcement agencies in the jurisdiction where a scrap metal dealer is located may conduct inspections and audits as necessary to ensure compliance with legal requirements. The names and addresses of registered scrap metal dealers are public data and must be provided by the Department of Public Safety upon request.

New penalties

The 2023 law also establishes a criminal offense for individuals found in possession of catalytic converters that are not attached to a vehicle or marked with specific identifying information. The penalty for possession corresponds to the number of units in a person’s possession. One catalytic converter is a misdemeanor, two is a gross misdemeanor, and three or more is a felony.

The law also provides that when an offender convicted of theft is ordered to pay restitution to an identified victim, the court must consider related out-of-pocket expenses the victim incurred in addition to the replacement cost of the catalytic converter.

Considerations for cities

The League encourages cities to be aware of any scrap metal dealers in their municipal boundaries to make sure they’re appropriately informed about these changes, and to ensure that their public safety departments have received information about the updated law.

Seized catalytic converters are now deemed to be contraband, and the law requires agencies to mark and sell them to a scrap metal dealer and make reasonable efforts to determine whether the person a converter was stolen from can be identified. If able to do so, proceeds from the sale are to be forwarded to the victim. If the owner cannot be identified, the agency may keep 70% of the proceeds from the sale and forward the other 30% to the prosecutorial office that prosecuted the case.

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