THE NIGHTTIME raid on a family home in Roxborough by armed burglars last week was just one of an alarming number of violent home invasions in the city, District Attorney Seth Williams said yesterday.
Invasions such as that one on Ripka Street near Silverwood - in which a man who lived there was pistol-whipped in the head - poses a more significant risk to communities than simple break-ins, Williams said.
To combat that threat, Williams, speaking at a news conference with state Sen. Mike Stack, state Rep. John Sabatina and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, presented two new pieces of legislation that would define violent home invasion as a separate crime from common burglary and impose longer minimum sentences for convicted offenders.
"Home invasions merit significant penalties because of their devastating impact on the victims and communities," Williams said.
Ramsey said 747 home invasions were committed in Philadelphia last year, resulting in 13 homicides and 21 shooting victims.
Sabatina's bill, which has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, would define home invasion as a first-degree felony if the offender enters a residence knowing or having a reasonable cause to believe that the home is occupied. Additionally, an offender entering any home - occupied or not - with a deadly weapon, or who physically harms or commits sexual assault on a victim, would be charged with home invasion.
Sabatina's bill carries a five- year minimum sentence for first-time offenders, followed by a 10- year minimum for a second offense. Home invasions committed against those over the age of 62 would incur a 10-year sentence on the first offense.
Stack's bill, which has not yet been introduced, would impose a similar definition of home invasion, but with harsher penalties. It would include sentence enhancements of up to 40 years for crimes committed during a home invasion.
Stack said that criminals who enter an occupied home do so with an "evil intent," and that home invaders should be separated by law from petty thieves.
"It is a special kind of crime, and a criminal will reasonably have to assume that other crimes will offshoot from that," he said.
The lawmakers said making home invasions separate crimes would enable police to track them separately from burglary. Ramsey said Philadelphia already tracks home invasions separately.