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By ARep | November 15th, 2012 - 11:17am
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O’TOOLE-RUSSO-RUMANA TO INTRODUCE BILL INCREASING PENALTIES FOR CRIMES COMMITTED
UNDER STATE OF EMERGENCY

While millions of New Jersey residents and businesses were devastated by Superstorm Sandy on Oct. 29, there were incidents of looting, robbery and unlawful trespass that occurred in the storm’s aftermath despite Governor Christie’s declaration of a state of emergency.

Today, State Senator Kevin O’Toole, along with his district colleagues Assemblymen Dave Russo and Scott Rumana, all R-Bergen, Essex, Morris and Passaic, announced they are introducing legislation to increase the penalties for certain crimes committed when a state of emergency is in force throughout the state or any given locality.

“We must raise the ante for those who think they can prey on vulnerable families, shattered businesses and the law enforcement community during a state of emergency,” O’Toole said. “Displaced and devastated New Jerseyans should be protected to the fullest extent possible. Those who think they can take advantage during a state of emergency should know that there will be serious consequences for actions detrimental to our society during that time.”

Crimes such as burglary, robbery, shoplifting, riot, and failure to disperse are some of the offenses for which penalties will be increased if committed when a state of emergency is declared during extenuating circumstances such as a flood, hurricane or superstorm.

“While most of our residents and businesses rallied to help and protect each other during the superstorm, there were incidents of unscrupulous individuals who sought to capitalize on this crisis,” said Rumana. “Under no circumstance can theft or robbery be justified. Those who take advantage of people at their most vulnerable time should be severely punished. At a time when people are uniting in the effort to help each other, those who seek to profit or create mayhem under these conditions must face the appropriate penalty.”

Under the legislators’ bill, crimes such as robbery committed against a person would be upgraded from a second degree crime to first degree; burglary would be a second degree crime, regardless of injury; shoplifting would be upgraded to a second degree crime, regardless of the value of the property; and riot is increased to a third degree crime, regardless of the purpose.

“News reports of pilfering and outright defiance of the law during this catastrophe was sickening,” said Russo. “While we saw the compassion and genuine concern by first responders, emergency personnel and citizens across the state to save lives and offer assistance, there were predators who sought to take advantage of the circumstances. These kinds of actions are deplorable and offenders should face a stiff penalty for seeking to profit at the expense of those who are victims.”

A first degree crime is punishable by 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $200,000; a second degree crime is punishable by 5 to 10 years in prison and a $150,000 fine; a third degree crime carries a penalty of 3 to 5 years in prison and a $15,000 fine; and a fourth degree crime is punishable by 18 months in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

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