San Francisco, CA — A 30-year-old man was acquitted of auto theft today after a jury determined the accusation stemmed from a messy breakup and not a crime, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced.
Jury members deliberated less than 30 minutes before finding Vallejo resident Franklin Ryan Jr. not guilty of one misdemeanor count of unauthorized taking of a vehicle, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Ariel Boyce-Smith. The charge had previously been reduced from a felony. Ryan faced one year in jail if convicted.
Ryan’s legal saga began Dec. 5, 2010, when his on-and-off girlfriend of six years called Sacramento police and reported that, days earlier, Ryan had taken her 1998 Oldsmobile sedan without her permission. The couple had been arguing over untangling their finances, she reported. While the car was in her name, Ryan maintained he had helped buy the vehicle and shared equally in driving it.
On Dec. 23, San Francisco police stopped Ryan at Larkin and Sutter streets for a broken brake light. He was arrested after a computer check revealed the Oldsmobile had been reported stolen.
During the two-and-a-half day trial, Boyce-Smith argued that the complaining witness was inappropriately using the court system and had been “playing games” with Ryan when she reported the car stolen. Police officers, Ryan and his former girlfriend all took the stand. Ryan’s mother also testified about the many times her son had driven her in the vehicle, contradicting the former girlfriend’s claim that she never gave him consent to drive the car.
“Ultimately, it became clear that this was a matter that belonged in small claims court, not clogging up our criminal justice system,” Boyce-Smith said.
Adachi said the jurors came to the right decision.
“This was a civil matter from the beginning,” Adachi said. “Mr. Ryan spent the holidays behind bars simply due to a property dispute. With this behind him, he can now move on with his life.”