Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt wants more severe penalties for carjackers — especially when they use a deadly weapon.
Schmitt threw his support Monday behind a push to create a felony motor-vehicle hijacking statute. Because there isn’t a specific law dealing with carjacking, Schmitt said, there can be different punishments under robbery or stealing charges.
Schmitt said the proposed law would be at a minimum a Class-B felony. If someone uses a gun to steal a car or if a victim is of a certain age, then the offense would be elevated to a Class-A felony.
“The bottom line is this: If you attempt to commit a carjacking with a gun, or you commit a carjacking with gun, you will go to jail for 10 years to life,” Schmitt said during a press conference in St. Louis.
There were about 200 carjackings in the city of St. Louis in 2018, according to Schmitt’s office. He noted that other states like Georgia, Illinois and Florida have instituted similar laws.
“With this statute and continual work to fight violent crime, we are sending a clear message to those who would harm our fellow citizens: We will bring you to justice,” Schmitt said.
Two Republican lawmakers, state Rep. David Gregory, R-St. Louis County, and Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, will sponsor the creation of a felony carjacking statute. Both are optimistic they can get the measure through the Missouri General Assembly before the end of the session in May.
“I believe that this will meet with widespread bipartisan support,” Onder said. “I think it will be a priority, and we will get it done this year.”
When Schmitt was asked if a tougher punishment would lead to fewer people trying to steal a vehicle, he replied: “I think it gives prosecutors the tools to treat violent crime the way it should be treated.”
Schmitt said carjackings have increased because anti-theft technology has made it harder to steal a car without a key.
“The traditional way of hotwiring a ‘78 Buick doesn’t exist anymore,” Schmitt said. “So if somebody’s willing to steal an automobile, they’re willing to do it with people inside. And that’s a very dangerous thing.”
A spokeswoman for St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell said he hasn’t spoken with Schmitt about the proposed law. But, Josi Nielson said Bell welcomes “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.”
A spokeswoman for St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner could not be reached for comment.
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