While millions of New Jersey residents and businesses were devastated by Superstorm Sandy on October 29, there were many reported incidents of looting and robbery in the storm’s aftermath despite Governor Chris Christie’s declaration of a state of emergency.In response, Assembly Republicans Dave Russo, Scott Rumana, Mary Pat Angelini and Declan O’Scanlon have introduced legislation increasing the penalties for certain crimes committed when a state of emergency is in force throughout the state or any given locality.

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Rumana said, “Under no circumstance can theft or robbery be justified. Those who take advantage of people at their most vulnerable time should be severely punished.”

Angelini explained, “It is unfortunate there are individuals who have no conscience when a chance to take advantage of a disaster situation presents itself. This bill will make them think twice before they commit such deplorable acts.”

Under the bill, crimes like robbery committed against a person would be upgraded from a second degree crime to first degree; burglary would be a second degree crime, regardless of injury; shoplifting would be upgraded to a second degree crime, regardless of the value of the property; and trespassing and riot is increased to a third degree crime, regardless of the purpose.

“This bill is a message to all would-be thieves and burglars – a state of emergency does not mean the fruit is ripe for picking,” said O’Scanlon. “Those who think that a disaster is an entrée to looting are going to be sorely disappointed. The punishment will match the crime.”

A first degree crime is punishable by 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $200,000; a second degree crime is punishable by 5 to 10 years in prison and a $150,000 fine; a third degree crime carries a penalty of 3 to 5 years in prison and a $15,000 fine; and a fourth degree crime is punishable by 18 months in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

Russo said, “While we saw the compassion and genuine concern by first responders, emergency personnel and citizens across the state to save lives and offer assistance, there were predators who sought to take advantage of the circumstances. These kinds of actions are deplorable and offenders should face a stiff penalty for seeking to profit at the expense of those who are victims.”