Home invasion will be a crime unto itself, separate from burglary or assault, if legislation approved in committee Tuesday becomes law. The bill sponsored by Sen. Diane Capehart would define home invasion as entering a residence with reason to know people may be there and threatening or using force or violence.
The home is the most sacrosanct of refuges, said Capehart. "Any invasion of that sanctuary and privacy should be met by hard, hard punishment."
In addition to defining home invasion, the bill sets penalties of between 10 and 30 years in prison, depending on the severity of accompanying threats or acts of violence. Under existing law, police would charge someone who committed a home invasion with burglary in the first degree, while this bill would create a new category, Capehart said.
Under V.I. law, if a person is present in a home during a burglary, the charge is burglary in the first degree. Penalties can range from 10 to 20 years in prison, which are very severe sentences, but less severe than the maximum under the proposed new law. Under current law, any assault would be charged as an additional, separate crime, with additional sentencing, while under the proposed law, an assault would be an aggravating factor increasing the potential sentence for the single offense. As a result, maximum sentences under current law and the proposed law may not be dramatically different.
In written testimony, Police Commissioner Rodney Querrard said the V.I. Police Department favored the new law because home invasions showed a different, more malicious intent than simple burglary. And new tools to punish the crime might help nip it in the bud, he said in his written testimony. "Just as we were seeing a proliferation of carjackings a few years earlier," with a new law, the territory may see a similar reduction in this sort of crime if it has the tools to severely punish it, he said.
The Office of the Public Defender opposed the legislation, with officials saying the existing law already gives police the tools to send those who commit home invasions to prison for an extended period of time.
"If there are currently statutes addressing these issues, I’m not sure what we are adding," said public defender Samuel Joseph.
Sen. Craig Barshinger offered an amendment on behalf of Capehart, who is not a member of this committee, to make several technical changes.
The committee approved the amendment without objection and then voted to send the bill, as amended, on to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration. Voting to send the bill on were Barshinger, Sens. Judi Buckley, Kenneth Gittens and Sammuel Sanes. Absent were Sens. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Clarence Payne and Tregenza Roach.