New Jersey law treats home invasions as serious crimes. Under current law, non-violent home invasions are most frequently charged as third degree crimes. These offenses come with significant potential penalties, including the possibility of being sentenced to between three and five years in prison.

Legislation currently pending before the New Jersey Legislature seeks to increase the criminal consequences for home invasion even further. The enhanced penalties would apply regardless of whether the defendant allegedly committed an assault as part of the burglary.

According to the terms of the legislation, breaking into a home with the intention of perpetrating a robbery would be classified as a second degree crime. If anyone was home during the break-in, the offense would be classified as a first degree crime.

Under New Jersey Law, second degree crimes are punishable by between 5 and ten years in prison. First degree crimes carry potential prison sentences ranging from 10 to 30 years. In addition, the legislation would make home invasion convictions subject to the New Jersey No Early Release Act. That law requires individuals to complete at least 85 percent of their prison sentence before they can be released.

The legislation was approved by the New Jersey Assembly in September 2013. As of early October, it was awaiting action by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Legislative intent may influence prosecutions

The bill was introduced in response to a high profile burglary in Westville, in which an elderly man was assaulted. Some lawmakers thought the sentences the perpetrators received were too lenient, and introduced the legislation with the specific intention of imposing harsher penalties on individuals convicted of home invasion.

Sponsors of the legislation argued that home invasions are different from other crimes because they often leave victims with a lingering sensation of being unsafe in their own homes.

It is likely that state law enforcement authorities will take this legislative intent into account when investigating and prosecuting home invasion offenses. As a result, it is imperative that anyone who is accused of burglary or home invasion enlist the help of an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney. Ideally, this assistance should be sought before the suspect makes any statements to law enforcement. However, a skilled attorney can be helpful at any step of the process.

Lawyers do much more than represent a defendant at trial. For example, criminal defense lawyers will investigate the circumstances of the crime, arrest and investigation, and will be able to take appropriate protective steps if it appears that the suspect’s constitutional rights were compromised at any stage of the process. Additionally, lawyers can help identify and pursue alternative resolution options if it appears that going to trial may not be in the defendant’s best interest.