PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 12, 2012 — Home invasion impacts communities across Pennsylvania and state Sen. Mike Stack is working to curb the growth of violence with a new state law specifically targeting home invasion.

During a public hearing today in Philadelphia, the Senate Judiciary Committee addressed Stack’s legislation creating a specific criminal offense for a home invasion. The act would be defined as a person who knowingly enters another person’s home without permission and threatens or harms the person living in the home.

(From left to right) State Sens. Larry Farnese, Mike Stack and Stewart J. Greenleaf at a Sept. 12 Senate Judiciary Committee public hearing focusing on Stack’s legislation criminalizing home invasions.

“A home invasion can be a homeowner’s worst nightmare and it can happen at any time.

It’s a crime that impacts communities all across Pennsylvania,” Stack said. “Home invasions have led to some horrific crimes, so if we can criminalize the act, we can place a fitting punishment on these particularly evil criminals and help our law enforcement do their job.”

Under Senate Bill 1002, a home invasion would be graded as a third-degree felony when it is committed without a weapon and would carry a mandatory minimum one-year prison sentence. It would be graded as a second-degree felony when it is committed with a dangerous weapon and would carry a mandatory three-year prison sentence. It would be graded as a first-degree felony when it is committed with a firearm and carry a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence.

“The right to be safe in your own home is almost sacred, and when someone invades that peace a family’s way of life can be permanently damaged,” said state Sen. Larry Farnese (D-Phila.). “Today’s hearing is an important one. I congratulate Sen. Stack on his legislation because it will give the courts and law enforcement more tools to keep our homes and neighborhoods safe.”

The Philadelphia Police Department supports the bill, said Lt. Francis T. Healy, special counsel to the commissioner in the Philadelphia Police Commissioner’s Office.

“The invasion on one’s home, to attack, or rob the occupants is a crime onto itself and justifiably deserves a separate and specific crime classification with mandatory sentencing,” Healy said. “Many other states have already recognized the especially egregious nature of such crimes and have passed similar legislation.”

Michigan, Connecticut, Louisiana, Illinois, and Florida have home invasion statutes.

“A crime that attacks and destroys the sanctity and security of a person’s last refuge deserves to be addressed differently than a normal robbery or assault in public. For the survivors of a home invasion, the sense of safety and security that one deserves in their own home is forever lost,” Healey said. “Certain justice for those who choose to invade another’s home to threaten attack or rob is needed to protect others from being victims, but also to send a very clear and strong message to those that may even consider such a crime, a person’s home is sacred.”

Jodi Lobel, deputy for the Trial Division of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, said it is more difficult to prove home invasion because prosecutors must prove that the offender knew the home was occupied at the time the defendant entered the house.

She recommended increasing the penalties for crimes committed with firearms or for carrying illegal firearms, and closing the loophole that provides for a misdemeanor for those who are prohibited from carrying a firearm because of a prior juvenile adjudication of a serious crime — including burglary — but nevertheless decided to break the law again and carry a gun illegal.

“We should feel safe in our homes. We shouldn’t be afraid,” Lobel said. “When one house on a block is burglarized, the homes on the entire block tend to feel unsafe.”

Kevin R. Steele, Montgomery County first assistant district attorney, said strong laws to help combat gun violence would give prosecutors they need to disarm criminals.

“In some of our most heinous murder cases, guns were used as tools to aid the perpetrators during a home invasion in order to get compliance from the victims,” Steele said. “The combination of guns and home invasions is a deadly mix and a danger that may only get worse.”

The increased use of surveillance cameras in businesses and commercial spaces is prompting criminals to target the homes of business owners instead, and ethnic groups — particularly the Asian community — are being targeted by violent criminals, Steele said.

“The homes of business owners, as well as other hard-working citizens, more often lack such sophisticated security technology,” Steele said. “Our homes, by contrast, are now seen as easier targets for ruthless criminals.”

“I appreciate all the input from today’s hearing,” Stack said. “It will help in the efforts to craft a strong bill that punishes the ruthless thugs who terrorize homeowners.”