State Rep. John Sabatina Jr., who has learned of recent home invasions in places like Mayfair, Rhawnhurst and Bucks County, wants to do something about it.
“It seems like there is one happening every week,” he said. Police statistics show that is a serious understatement.
Last week, Sabatina held a news conference at Police Headquarters at Eighth and Race streets to urge passage of a bill he is sponsoring that would increase penalties for people convicted of home invasion crimes.
Sabatina (D-174th dist.) was joined at the May 17 news conference by Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, District Attorney Seth Williams and state Sen. Mike Stack (D-5th dist.), who has introduced similar legislation.
House Bill 1296, which is under review by the House Judiciary Committee, would establish and classify home invasion as a first-degree felony punishable by a mandatory minimum prison sentence, which Sabatina thinks will serve as a deterrent.
“If you commit a home invasion,” he said, “it’s five years.”
For second offenses, or for first offenses against a victim 62 or older, the minimum penalty would be 10 years.
A person could be convicted of home invasion if he knowingly enters, attempts to enter or remains in a dwelling unlawfully with the intent to commit a violent crime.
The conviction would be dependent on the offender knowing someone was in the house; being armed with explosives or a weapon, or causing physical injury to the victim; and committing or intending to commit robbery, rape, kidnapping, aggravated assault, murder or manslaughter.
Sabatina, a former assistant district attorney, mentioned some recent crimes that would qualify.
• A 48-year-old businessman was murdered in January when two men burst into his home in Hilltown, Bucks County.
• In March, a 94-year-old woman was robbed and assaulted by a man in her home on the 2800 block of Unruh Ave.
• In April, a man broke into an apartment on the 7900 block of Loretto Ave. and sexually assaulted and beat a 63-year-old woman with a hammer.
Sabatina’s bill is similar to one that became law in Delaware in June 2012. In all, five states have laws dealing specifically with home invasion.
“There needs to be six, starting with Pennsylvania,” said Stack, who described home invasion as an “insidious” and “horrible” crime that terrorizes people.
Williams agreed with that assessment.
“Few crimes are as frightful as home invasions,” he said.
Williams pointed to the May 7 robbery and pistol-whipping of a man in his Roxborough home. Two days later, a man was robbed and pistol-whipped in his Olney home.
“These horrific acts cannot be tolerated,” said the district attorney, who supports the tougher legislation and hopes it serves as a deterrent. “We want to make Philadelphians feel safe.”
Ramsey said there were 747 home invasions in 2012. Thirteen of them resulted in homicides. As of May 17 this year, there have been 251 home invasions, with eight homicides related to the crimes.
The police commissioner, in backing the legislation, said home invasions are violent and heinous.
“We have to act and we have to act decisively,” he said. “We have to send a strong message.”
Williams and Stack said there could be a stumbling block to enactment of the legislation. Some lawmakers, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Stewart Greenleaf of Montgomery County, oppose mandatory minimum sentences because they take away a judge’s discretion.
Still, they think an exception should be made for home invasions.
“The crime is uniquely evil,” Stack said. ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org