The New Jersey senate, through Senator Kevin O’Toole, introduced a bill today which would increase the penalties for residential burglaries taking it from a third degree crime to a second degree crime. According to crime statistics, residential burglaries increased by 11 percent last year, an extremely high rate of increase.
For additional information, please see the news article entitled, “N.J. Senate introduces bill that would upgrade charges for residential burglaries”.
Currently, burglary is a third degree offense in New Jersey under N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2 unless it was committed with a weapon or someone is injured during the criminal act. In those cases, it becomes a second degree crime. A third degree crime is punishable by three (3) to five (5) years in state prison if convicted. However, there is a presumption of non-incarceration for first time offenders, meaning that, if you have no prior record, you are considered a good candidate for probation. You are also eligible for the Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) program which can result in no criminal record if you successfully complete this diversionary program.
A second degree crime, on the other hand, is punishable by five (5) to ten (10) years in state prison and has a presumption of incarceration. As a result, even if you have no prior record, if you are convicted of a second degree crime it is presumed that you will be given a state prison sentence. Thus, there is a major distinction between a second and third degree crime in New Jersey.
I used to work with Senator O’Toole at a law firm in Nutley years ago but I have to disagree with the reasoning behind this new bill. A second degree grading on all residential burglaries is too severe, in my opinion, and will result in inequitable results. It will also limit the prosecutor’s ability to work these cases out and could clog up the system with burglary cases that must go to trial.
In my experience, most burglaries are committed by those with drug addiction issues and rarely are people home during the commission of the crime. To have a drug addict facing a second degree crime and a minimum of five (5) years in state prison even with no prior record is not a fair punishment in my experience. I understand that an 11% increase in residential burglaries is concerning but I don’t believe this bill is the right way to deal with those issues.