Monmouth state senator introduces legislation to fight car thefts


State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) has announced the introduction of legislation, S-3385, that would, if passed in the Assembly and Senate and signed into law, target repeat offenders by establishing a “rebuttable presumption” of pretrial detention for the crime of carjacking, and for the crimes of car theft and burglary where the defendant has a prior conviction or prior pending charge for one of those crimes.

The provisions of the bill would remain in effect for one year after enactment and then expire, as a temporary means of addressing the recent surge in auto thefts, according to a press release provided by the New Jersey Senate Democrats.

After expiration, courts would be required to report to the Legislature and the governor on the number of individuals detained under the bill, according to the press release.

“This is a decisive and targeted action to counter auto thefts and related crimes by allowing law enforcement to detain repeat offenders,” Gopal said. “The surge in auto thefts over the past two years threatens the property and safety of New Jersey residents and places an added strain on law enforcement.

“These crimes are especially disturbing because they are so close to home. Criminals are burglarizing houses for key fobs, stealing cars right out of people’s driveways and using the vehicles to commit other crimes.

“Simply stated, we can’t continue to stand by and wait for things to get better. This menace continues to threaten life, home and property across our state, and places added strain on law enforcement. It’s time to act,” Gopal said.

More than 14,300 vehicles had been stolen in New Jersey through November, up 9% from the same point in 2021 and up 41% from a record low in 2020. The problem is not unique to New Jersey, with auto thefts up 17% nationally, according to the press release.

Gopal also authored a series of additional measures to combat motor vehicle thefts, including bills to toughen penalties for car thefts, for repeat offenders and for the illegal use of master keys:

• S-3389 – Establishes crimes of theft of motor vehicle and receiving stolen motor vehicle as separate statutory provisions; provides extended sentences for certain persistent offenders.

This bill establishes theft of a motor vehicle and receiving a stolen vehicle as separate offenses, which will facilitate the tracking of motor vehicle theft crimes and help crack down on persistent offenders with extended terms.

• S-3390 – Expands criminal penalties related to illegal use of motor vehicle master key.

This bill amends current law to make it a fourth degree crime for a person to knowingly possess for an unlawful purpose a key fob that operates a vehicle owned by another person or possess a computer program commonly used to start a motor vehicle without an ignition key or key fob.

• S-3028 – Increases penalties imposed on juveniles and adults convicted of motor vehicle theft and related crimes. Strengthens penalties for adults and juveniles who commit auto theft crimes and establishes mandatory minimum sentences for adults who recruit juveniles to commit auto theft.

• S-3222 – Prohibits towing companies from requiring the owner of a stolen motor vehicle to pay a fee to release the vehicle from a storage facility so long as the owner provides a copy of the stolen vehicle police report to the towing company.

On Dec. 19, the Senate Judiciary Committee released S-3389, S-3390 and S-3028 to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration, according to the press release.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee also voted out additional legislation that was sponsored by Sen. Richard Codey, Sen. Paul Sarlo, Sen. Joseph Lagana and Gopal. The Democrats are the majority party in the state Senate.

Measures that were advanced on Dec. 19 were the following:

• S-3006 would increase penalties for repeat convictions of certain motor vehicle related crimes; and also increase penalties for the leader of any auto theft trafficking network that conspires with persons under the age of 17 to steal cars.

• S-2283 and S-2284 would increase penalties for carjacking and for theft of a motor vehicle, and also upgrade motor vehicle theft to a second degree crime.

• S-3345 would upgrade the crime for a leader of an auto theft trafficking network, while also establishing a second degree crime of participant in auto theft trafficking network.

• S-3296 would require a vehicle’s identification number to be stamped on catalytic converters of motor vehicles.

Catalytic converters, which are emissions control devices, have been a primary target of auto theft rings due to the valuable metals they contain.

All the approved bills, except for S-3296, will go to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration, according to the press release.