Home>Highlight>Major legislative package addressing carjacking approved by Senate committee

State Sen. Paul Sarlo at Gov. Phil Murphy's fiscal year 2023 budget address delivered on March 8, 2022. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Major legislative package addressing carjacking approved by Senate committee

Judiciary Committee clears eight bills, most of them unanimously

By Joey Fox, December 19 2022 2:52 pm

The Senate Judiciary Committee today passed a package of eight bills addressing carjacking in New Jersey, kicking off the state legislature’s response to the heightened fear of auto-related crime among the state’s residents.

The bills make a wide variety of changes to the state’s criminal statutes, many of which focus on increasing penalties for the crime of carjacking. Arguably the most important bill, S2284, upgrades motor vehicle theft from a third degree crime (which entails three to five years imprisonment) to a second degree crime (five to ten years), while others address repeat and juvenile offenders.

Several additional bills address different aspects of the problem of carjacking, including requiring vehicle numbers to be stamped on catalytic converters, an easily stolen car part; upgrading penalties for participating in a carjacking network; and establishing a separate statutory provision for the crime of car thefts, which are currently folded into the broader crime of theft. One further bill, addressing fees imposed by towing companies, was withdrawn from a vote for now.

Seven of the bills passed unanimously, while one bill – S3028, which increases criminal penalties for both juveniles and adults – drew “no” votes from State Sens. Michael Testa (R-Vineland) and Nellie Pou (D-North Haledon).

“I cannot in good conscience vote for this,” Pou said. “I would consider changing my vote if there’s any consideration of amending this to eliminate the mandatory sentencing for juveniles.”

Other than that one defection from Testa and Pou, senators generally gave high marks to the bill package, saying that it would begin to address something their constituents have repeatedly said is a major problem.

“This is a good first step,” said State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge), the sponsor of several of the bills. “Some of [the bills] coincide with each other, some contradict a little bit, but it gives us a chance to [take] a first step.”

Some testifiers and advocacy groups, however, expressed strong discomfort with the package, arguing that increasing penalties wouldn’t reduce crime but would further criminalize certain populations, especially young Black people.

“These proposals are contrary to the data that we have,” said Laura Cohen, a Rutgers law professor and the director of the Rutgers Criminal and Youth Justice Clinic. “They’re contrary to all that we have achieved in New Jersey.”

Three of the bills have already passed one committee in the Assembly, but it’s likely that the package still has a long way to go until it reaches the governor’s desk. It’s not uncommon for complex bill packages to undergo multiple rounds of amendments and committee hearings before coming for full chamber votes.

Carjacking, and crime more generally, was a frequently cited issue in this year’s congressional elections, with Republicans labeling Democratic incumbents as insufficiently tough on crime. It will likely come up once again in next year’s legislative elections, meaning that legislators of both parties will likely feel pressured to take action before they face voters.

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