House burglaries are becoming more and more violent in Lancaster County, District Attorney Craig Stedman testified at a recent House Judiciary Committee hearing in Philadelphia.
So, it’s about time state law starts punishing convicted burglars more severely, DA Stedman told the group of representatives.
The heroin epidemic in Lancaster County and across the state has fueled more house break-ins, with addicts hopeful to find cash and items to pay for their next drug supply.
Lancaster County’s elderly residents are often victims, targeted for their perceived inability to fight back.
House Bill 2018, proposed by State Rep. Martina White of Philadelphia, takes all that into account with the goal of putting burglars behind bars for longer terms.
The bill, if passed into law, would carry a mandatory minimum 5-year prison term for a convicted burglar who has a weapon during the break-in. Burglars who target the elderly – those over age 62 – would face a mandatory minimum 10-year prison term.
Harsher punishment would provide a deterrent for burglars, who currently face relatively short prison sentences for first-time offenses, based on current sentencing guidelines used by judges.
Stedman told the representatives reviewing House Bill 2018 that he often sees sentences of a year or less for a break-in.
Not enough, he told the group.
Stedman posed to the panel:
A resident can use deadly force against an intruder, so why are penalties against burglars who are caught relatively minimal?
“They need to know they will face long sentences,” Stedman said of potential burglars. “No matter how big or small, no matter how extravagant or humble, your home is your castle. No one has the right to violate sanctity and security of that home.”
Burglaries are not heat-of-passion crimes, Stedman told the committee. They are premeditated, involving planning of point of entry, Stedman said.
“Criminals have to think about this crime well beforehand,” Stedman said.
Often times, Stedman said, those plans include targeting the elderly. Criminals perceive them as vulnerable, easy targets. House Bill 2018 would protect those victims on fixed incomes, not as able to flee and protect themselves as younger victims.
Rep. White credited DA Stedman and the law-enforcement community for supporting the bill.
“As a prosecutor, he knows firsthand how personally invasive this crime is and how quickly it can turn into a crime of violence,” Rep. White said after the hearing. “We owe it to the people of Pennsylvania to treat this crime with the severity it deserves. I look forward to having my bill brought before the House Judiciary Committee for a vote so it can begin its journey through the legislative process.”
Stedman, in citing a statewide escalation of violence in home break-ins, pointed to a pair of recent burglaries in Lancaster County which ended with one woman dead and another stabbed over 20 times.
Nicole Mathewson was sexually abused and killed during a December 2014 break-in at her Lancaster city home. Two men are charged with choosing her home at random for a burglary and the crimes that ensued when they encountered Mathewson home alone.
In the other case, a man was convicted of breaking into his grirlfriend’s neighbor’s home in Lancaster city in Setember 2014. The intruder, Elswart Bodden, repeatedly stabbed a woman who was home alone inside. She survived by crawling to a phone and calling 911.
There wasn’t a proven drug motive in those cases. In cases with drug motives, Stedman told the group, there is no difference to a victim who fears for their life when an intruder shatters a window or kicks down a door to get inside their home.
“Intellectual discussions on crime and the financial costs of incarceration,” Stedman told the Committee, “must never lose sight of the brutal reality of crime and real-world costs to each victim.”
(Photo courtesy of LNP)
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