Gov. Murphy Signs New Laws To Fight Car Thefts

By: Morgan Reitzel, Follow South Jersey Intern

SOUTH JERSEY – New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a series of four new laws to fight against car theft in New Jersey at Long Branch City Hall attended by law enforcement officials and lawmakers from both major parties on July 7.

Murphy argues that while the number of stolen cars have decreased, there is still more that can be done since there has been a 10% decrease in auto thefts in 2022 compared to 2021. 

According to State Police, “14,320 vehicles were stolen in New Jersey. Fewer than 7% of stolen car cases result in an arrest in 2022.” Comparatively, auto thefts have increased in years before due to inflation and the pandemic leaving a lot of people unemployed and worrisome about staying afloat. 

The new laws were passed without a single “no” vote and are to specifically target repeat car theft offenders and trafficking rings. 

The following are the new laws: 

  • Expand on criminal penalties for having master vehicle keys. (A4930)
  • Establish car thefts and receiving a stolen car as separate offenses. (A4931)
  • Expand the definition of “leader” of auto theft rings to include people who conspire to commit the crime. (A5034)
  • Eliminate the presumption of pretrial release for offenders who were convicted of a separate auto theft within the past 90 days. (A5189)

A statistic says that the most common way that cars are stolen is because the owner will leave their car fob in the car which makes them easy targets. 

Starting the journey to reduce car theft, Murphy also signed a new law (S249) to combat catalytic converter theft by requiring more verification of ownership when selling used catalytic converters in May 2023. Additionally, all 120 seats in the legislature agreed to put more resources into “the auto theft task force, loosening restrictions on police chases, and allocating $10 million in federal money toward buying automated license plate recognition devices for local police.” Nevertheless, with these new additions only decreasing car theft from 10% and with still having concern from N.J. residents, the legislature with Murphy at the head, came up with the four new laws. 

Some lawmakers believe that bail reform, which is when there is no cash bail for non-violent and low level cases, could be the reason for repeat car theft offenders. 

“We are fully committed to helping law enforcement deter car thefts and hold those who commit those crimes accountable,” Murphy said. “We will never stop our efforts to keep New Jerseyans safe.”

While all these new laws sound amicable and a way to better help New Jersey, there is some pushback from progressive advocators. Republicans say the laws will not reduce crime, increase racial disparities, and increase risk of rolling back on criminal justice reform. 

With car theft not being a new topic of concern, Alexander Shalom, a senior attorney at the ACLU of New Jersey, warns lawmakers that there is no data that supports the argument that bail reform is to blame for car theft and increasing fines and sentences would be a problem with trying to reduce and jail populations in New Jersey. 

Gov. Murphy responds to the concern by saying that the new pretrial release law is just a tweak to the law and will not do much to change the bail reform. Similarly, Murphy reiterates that these laws are to target those that are part of a criminal car theft network. 

The new laws will “hold auto theft traffickers and their criminal networks accountable for the epidemic of motor vehicle thefts in New Jersey,” says State Senate Minority Leader Anthony Bucco. 

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