Make carjacking a separate crime, lawmakers urged STATE HOUSE REPORT

February 03, 1993|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

Carjacking has struck such a chord of fear with the public that the General Assembly should make it a separate crime with its own harsh penalties, a Senate committee was told yesterday.

"That will answer the No. 1 question [motorists] ask: 'When are you going to do something about it?' " said William F. Zorzi Sr., lobbyist for the American Automobile Association.

He and others urged the Judicial Proceedings Committee to support two related measures sponsored by Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- one to make carjacking a separate crime with a minimum 15-year prison sentence, and another to set up a statewide car theft prevention program that insurance industry officials say could lead to lower car insurance premiums.

"A person's home is his castle, and it's sort of the same with their car," said Col. Larry W. Tolliver, superintendent of the Maryland State Police. "People [who are victims of carjacking] really feel like they've been violated."

After the hearing, Sen. Walter M. Baker, the Cecil County Democrat who chairs the committee, said the carjacking bill was unnecessary because the actions in question are already crimes under Maryland law. But he predicted it would pass anyway.

"It'll probably fly because the media is for it and the people are for it," he said. "But it's not going to do anything because there are already laws on the books that address every issue they talk about."

But Steven B. Larsen, a legislative lobbyist for Governor Schaefer, said that while stealing a vehicle by force is already a crime, the penalties called for in the governor's bill are stiffer than those in current law.

Under the legislation, the minimum sentence for carjacking would be 15 years. The current penalty for robbery is three to 10 years.

If the carjacker used a deadly or dangerous weapon, the governor's bill would prohibit parole or suspension of any of the 15-year sentence. The existing crime of robbery with a dangerous weapon carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. But Mr. Larsen noted that if any part of the sentence is suspended, or the defendant receives parole, even a carjacker who used a deadly weapon could wind up spending only months in jail.

"The bill clearly gives prosecutors a lot more," he said.

With the strong backing of the insurance industry, Mr. Larsen also pushed for passage of a bill that would strengthen existing laws related to stolen vehicles and vehicle parts and would set up a 13-member Vehicle Theft Prevention Council.

The council, modeled after a successful Michigan program, would make grants to law enforcement agencies, community groups and prosecutors for programs to prevent or deter vehicle thefts.

Between 1986, when the Michigan program was started, and 1990, Michigan's car theft rate declined by 13 percent while the national average went up by 40 percent, Mr. Larsen said. Jeff Rouch, government relations manager for Nationwide Insurance Co., said the decrease permitted a statewide reduction in insurance premiums in Michigan of $8.90 for every dollar put into the program.

In Maryland, 35,517 motor vehicles were reported stolen in 1991, and another 27,000 thefts were reported in the first nine months of 1992, he said.

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