Under current New Jersey law, all burglary offenses are third-degree crimes, unless a burglar was armed with an explosive or deadly weapon or had inflicted or threatened to inflict bodily injury on any victims.

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A third-degree crime is punishable by imprisonment for three to five years, a $15,000 maximum fine or both. State Senator Kevin O'Toole says penalties should be tougher if a burglar breaks into a home or business with people inside.

Explaining how he discovered that the burglary of an unoccupied car is just as criminal as the burglary of an occupied home or business, O'Toole says, "I didn't know it. I was having a conversation with a Superior Court judge and he said to me as an aside, 'Did you know that if you break into a car, a shed or an occupied home, it all carries the same third-degree penalties?' Think about that. It's really preposterous."

O'Toole has just introduced legislation to upgrade the crime of residential burglary and further increase penalties when families are home. The bill upgrades the burglary of a residence to a second-degree crime and of an occupied residence to a second-degree crime without the chance of early release. A second-degree crime is punishable by imprisonment for five to 10 years, a $150,000 maximum fine or both.

"This bill would make it a second-degree," explains O'Toole. "If someone is home there's no time for early release. So, if you're sentenced to ten years, guess what? You're doing ten years, hard time."

O'Toole says, "The burglary of occupied properties must be deterred by the greatest possible penalties, due to grave physical, emotional and psychological damage endured by victims…… It is imperative that criminal penalties match the severity of crimes. This common-sense legislation will deter burglaries and save residents harm and grief."

The latest crime statistics released by the State last week show that burglaries are up 11% from last year in New Jersey.