(Missourinet)– A state senator from eastern Missouri’s St. Charles County outlined his proposed statewide carjacking statute on Monday in Jefferson City, saying carjackings are an epidemic in the state.
State Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, testified Monday before the Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. Onder tells fellow senators there were 351 carjackings in St. Louis City in 2019.
“These are violent crimes in which Missourians are terrorized in what should be a safe sanctuary, their cars,” Onder testifies.
Onder notes there is currently no uniform sentencing in Missouri for carjacking. Some suspects are being charged with robbery. Others are charged with stealing and are being sentenced to just four months in prison, according to testimony at Monday’s hearing.
During his testimony, Onder read a letter from a retired St. Louis Police lieutenant. The lieutenant’s niece was carjacked in Kansas City in 2018. During the incident, Onder says the suspect put a gun to the victim’s body and threatened to kill her. He then took her vehicle.
Onder says the suspect, who had two prior felony convictions, was released after serving 120 days in prison and was placed on probation.
“It looks like what happened in that case is that perpetrator was sentenced for stealing as opposed to the really vicious, dangerous crime of carjackings,” Onder tells Capitol reporters.
Under Onder’s Senate Bill 561, most carjackings would be a class A felony, with a minimum sentence of ten years in prison.
Instances would include causing serious physical injury to anyone in the vehicle, being armed with a deadly weapon and displaying or threatening the use of what appears to be a deadly weapon.
The Missouri Police Chiefs Association, Missouri Sheriffs’ Association, the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police and the St. Louis Police Officers Association testified for Onder’s bill.
The bill is also a top priority for Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R). His office testified for the legislation as well.
Schmitt’s office is calling on Missouri to join 23 other states in passing a statewide carjacking statute. Deputy Attorney General Cristian Stevens testified before the committee, emphasizing carjackings in Missouri are an epidemic.
“With carjackings, very often the reason for the carjacking itself is to use that car then as a getaway car, because it can’t be connected to the person driving it,” Stevens testifies.
Stevens says some of the cars are then used in drive-by shootings.
Missouri’s neighboring states of Illinois, Kansas and Tennessee are three of the 23 states that have approved legislation backed by Schmitt’s office.
Onder says there were more than 550 carjackings in Missouri in 2018, including 248 in St. Louis and 227 in Kansas City. But Schmitt’s office believes those numbers are low, noting that St. Louis Police use crime analysts to review robbery and stealing charges to check for carjackings, since there’s no specific statute.
No one testified against Onder’s bill at the hearing. The committee is expected to vote at a later date.