Proposed Carjacking Legislation Advocates Stiffer Punishments

By MCNS Staff

The Missouri State Capitol building in Jefferson City.

New carjacking legislation promises stiffer penalties but does not address prevention.

According to local reports, Missouri lawmakers announced a proposal for a new law on Monday that they say will make prison sentences for carjackers more uniform and easier to track. But it is unclear whether it will help combat crime.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, and Rep. David Gregory, R-Fenton, announced the proposed legislation at the Old Post Office in St. Louis. Onder and Gregory are sponsors of the legislation.

Prosecutors currently charge carjackers under a general robbery law, which has led to varied sentences and makes the outcomes of carjacking prosecutions harder to track, the sponsors say, according to stltoday.com. The proposed legislation would create a charge called “motor vehicle hijacking,” making it easier to track and create uniform sentencing guidelines for the crime, according to Onder and Gregory.

Right now, to get stiffer sentences for carjackers, police must go to federal prosecutors, by way of determining that some part of the crime violated a federal law. If not, police can seek state charges. But the bill sponsors argue that local prosecutors don’t have the same type of laws the feds have to pick from when issuing charges on these crimes.

“It’s an epidemic,” Schmitt said, according to stltoday.com. “This is about removing the worst offenders from our streets. More accountability and accurate statistics will lead to a better understanding of the problem.”

Though Schmitt, Onder, and Gregory did not release copies of the proposal, they said it would include 10-year sentences for those who attempt to carry out carjackings with or without weapons as well as those who are successful. There are also mandatory sentences of 10 to 30 years for convicted carjackers who target the elderly, the disabled, and children.

A spokeswoman for St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner said Gardner would withhold comment until she was able to review the proposed legislation.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell issued a statement, which read, in part, “We welcome any attempt to make St. Louis County more safe through legislation, particularly with respect to violent crimes like ‘carjackings’ and we look forward to reviewing the proposed legislation.”

And in a statement, St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden said his department “will continue to diligently and rigorously investigate carjacking incidents, and will enforce any legislation approved by legislators.”

Critics share the sentiment with St. Louis metropolitan area officials in holding out support for the proposed legislation. There is suspicion that while crime in metropolitan areas is a real issue, the proposal for the new law targets Blacks and other people of color while not addressing the poverty that engenders criminal behavior.

And though Schmitt claims to value statistics and better understanding of the problem, he, nor Onder or Gregory did not mention specific measures in the proposal to address root causes.

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