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States, feds, crack down on 'carjacking.' (Anti-Car-Theft Act of 1992) (On First Reading)

U.S. Congress late last year made a federal crime of "carjacking," and the FBI added armed theft of automobiles to violent crimes being handled by a special force of agents.

The penalty for using a firearm to forcibly take a motor vehicle under the Anti-Car-Theft Act of 1992 is imprisonment of up to 15 years, with sentences of up to 25 years if the offense causes serious bodily injury, and up to life imprisonment if the action results in death. Congress based federal jurisdiction on the premise that vehicles that have been transported in interstate or foreign commerce--which would include just about every car on the road--are covered under the federal commerce clause.

The action is part of renewed interest in federalizing crimes that already are covered by state law. During 1992 Congress also made federal crimes of stealing animals from laboratories and fleeing the state to avoid child support payments. Such actions follow major expansion of federal criminal jurisdiction for drug offenses in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, the result of which has been complaints from federal judges about the burden on federal courts. Proponents claim that such federal laws supplement, rather than supplant, state efforts. Others see such laws undercutting state legislative authority for criminal sentencing.

By making carjacking a federal offense, local law enforcement officials have a new option of sending the matter to federal prosecutors if they believe that state punishment is not sufficient. Such discretion given to law enforcement personnel diminishes state legislative powers over crime and punishment.

In the states, penalties of up to 10, 20 and more years of imprisonment often apply to crimes of armed robbery or armed assault. Even so, legislation is being considered in some states to add more specific crime classifications and penalties to criminal codes to get tough on carjacking. A measure pending in Michigan would require a mandatory minimum 10-year sentence for felony armed robbery of a motor vehicle. New Jersey also has legislation pending to require a mandatory prison term for auto theft if a firearm is used. And Rhode Island last year considered a bill to stiffen penalties for robbery of an occupied motor vehicle, including provisions for life without parole when a death results.

Representative John B. Harwood, who sponsored the Rhode Island bill, says that even while his state has had only sporadic problems with carjacking, it needs a stronger law. He sees no conflict in having both state and federal jurisdiction. When it comes to public safety, he said, "it's better to have too much law, rather than not enough."
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Publication:State Legislatures
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Words:430
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