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Tuesday, August 16, 2022
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Legislature Discusses Crime Bills

Although the three bills on the Legislature’s Committee on Homeland Security, Justice and Public Safety didn’t get the yes or no needed to move it on to the Rules Committee, two of them got extensive discussion when the committee met Wednesday at the Legislature building on St. John.

Nine public officials were waiting to testify but the senators at the meeting voted to hold the third bill, which would create a Comprehensive Crime and Public Health Task Force, because its sponsor, Sen. Jeanette Millin-Young, was not at the meeting.

“Allow me to apologize,” said Committee Chairman Kenneth L. Gittens. “Some of you have been here since this morning and I don’t like to waste the time of officials.”

A bill to create a new type of crime called home invasion was held because the amendments requested by its sponsor, Sen. Diane Capehart, were not ready for distribution. Capehart pinned the problem on “challenges” with the legal counsel’s office.

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Capehart’s bill provides penalties ranging from 10 to 30 years with no chance of parole depending on the severity of the home invasion.

She said the bill is needed because home invasion crimes are on the upswing in the last six months.

According to the proposed bill, crimes would fall in the home invasion category when the accused knows someone is in the house.

Attorney General Vincent Frazer said that, although the bill was laudable, first-degree burglary charges already covers crimes where a person is at home. He said including a provision that the accused person knows someone is home is not the case with first-degree burglary and would make prosecution harder.

“It creates a substantial loophole,” Frazer said.

Capehart later said she was amenable to amending the first-degree burglary law so it would better address the home invasion issue.

“This is not just a regular burglary. People are scared to stay at home,” Capehart said.

The senators and testifiers spent the most time discussing a bill that proposed to up the threshold for grand larceny from $100 to $1,000 and to add a minimum penalty of one year in jail. This bill was held in committee at the request of sponsor Sen. Sammuel Sanes so amendments could be written.

No one seemed to disagree that the $100 needed to be upped. Sanes sent around an amendment that raised it to $250 but testifiers floated numbers around $500.

Frazer said the prison sentence should be left up to the judge rather than set a minimum.

Police Commissioner Rodney F. Querrard and others were on the side of harsher penalties.

“I more often see people who are wrong and strong,” he said.

In response to Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen’s assertion that people steal for food, Querrard said more often it was to “supply their habit.”

Samuel Joseph, the territory’s chief public defender, urged a “delicate balance” because he said there are often mitigating circumstances that lead someone to theft.

“Poverty, lack of education, training, lack of rehabilitation,” he said, ticking off some causes.

Joseph said youths with criminal records are scarred for life and even first-time offenders won’t be able to get jobs because employers do background checks.

Frazer also spoke about the cost to government to incarcerate those convicted in grand larceny cases.

“Once put behind the fence, the government has to take care of them,” he said, listing such expenses and food and health care.

In addition to Gittens, Hansen and Sanes, committee members Sens. Craig Barshinger, Clarence Payne III and Tregenza Roach also attended the meeting. Capehart was there because she had a bill on the agenda.

Committee member Judi Buckley was absent. She sent word that she was bumped from her flight from St. Croix to St. Thomas and that the later flights available would get her to St. John too late.

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Although the three bills on the Legislature’s Committee on Homeland Security, Justice and Public Safety didn’t get the yes or no needed to move it on to the Rules Committee, two of them got extensive discussion when the committee met Wednesday at the Legislature building on St. John.

Nine public officials were waiting to testify but the senators at the meeting voted to hold the third bill, which would create a Comprehensive Crime and Public Health Task Force, because its sponsor, Sen. Jeanette Millin-Young, was not at the meeting.

“Allow me to apologize,” said Committee Chairman Kenneth L. Gittens. “Some of you have been here since this morning and I don’t like to waste the time of officials.”

A bill to create a new type of crime called home invasion was held because the amendments requested by its sponsor, Sen. Diane Capehart, were not ready for distribution. Capehart pinned the problem on “challenges” with the legal counsel’s office.

Capehart’s bill provides penalties ranging from 10 to 30 years with no chance of parole depending on the severity of the home invasion.

She said the bill is needed because home invasion crimes are on the upswing in the last six months.

According to the proposed bill, crimes would fall in the home invasion category when the accused knows someone is in the house.

Attorney General Vincent Frazer said that, although the bill was laudable, first-degree burglary charges already covers crimes where a person is at home. He said including a provision that the accused person knows someone is home is not the case with first-degree burglary and would make prosecution harder.

“It creates a substantial loophole,” Frazer said.

Capehart later said she was amenable to amending the first-degree burglary law so it would better address the home invasion issue.

“This is not just a regular burglary. People are scared to stay at home,” Capehart said.

The senators and testifiers spent the most time discussing a bill that proposed to up the threshold for grand larceny from $100 to $1,000 and to add a minimum penalty of one year in jail. This bill was held in committee at the request of sponsor Sen. Sammuel Sanes so amendments could be written.

No one seemed to disagree that the $100 needed to be upped. Sanes sent around an amendment that raised it to $250 but testifiers floated numbers around $500.

Frazer said the prison sentence should be left up to the judge rather than set a minimum.

Police Commissioner Rodney F. Querrard and others were on the side of harsher penalties.

“I more often see people who are wrong and strong,” he said.

In response to Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen’s assertion that people steal for food, Querrard said more often it was to “supply their habit.”

Samuel Joseph, the territory’s chief public defender, urged a “delicate balance” because he said there are often mitigating circumstances that lead someone to theft.

“Poverty, lack of education, training, lack of rehabilitation,” he said, ticking off some causes.

Joseph said youths with criminal records are scarred for life and even first-time offenders won’t be able to get jobs because employers do background checks.

Frazer also spoke about the cost to government to incarcerate those convicted in grand larceny cases.

“Once put behind the fence, the government has to take care of them,” he said, listing such expenses and food and health care.

In addition to Gittens, Hansen and Sanes, committee members Sens. Craig Barshinger, Clarence Payne III and Tregenza Roach also attended the meeting. Capehart was there because she had a bill on the agenda.

Committee member Judi Buckley was absent. She sent word that she was bumped from her flight from St. Croix to St. Thomas and that the later flights available would get her to St. John too late.