By Victor Skinner | The Center Square | May 19, 2022

Legislation to increase the penalty for carjackers who cause serious injury has cleared the Louisiana House and could soon head to Gov. John Bel Edwards for final approval.

Senate Bill 161, sponsored by Sen. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, was presented for a vote on the House floor on Wednesday by Rep. Debbie Villio, R-Kenner.

“In New Orleans last year carjackings increased by 160%. This year, in the country, they’ve risen by 500%,” Villio said.

SB 161 states “whoever commits the crime of carjacking when serious bodily injury results shall be imprisoned at hard labor for not less than 10 years nor more than 20 years, without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence.”

The bill initially provided a range of eight to 20 years, but was amended in the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice in early May to increase the minimum. Present law provides that the crime of carjacking is punishable by imprisonment at hard labor for between two and 20 years without parole, but does not distinguish between crimes that involve serious bodily injury and those that do not.

Talbot told the House committee the bill is inspired by the death of Linda Frickey, a 73-year-old woman who was killed as the result of a carjacking in New Orleans on March 21. Frickey was entangled in the seatbelt of her vehicle when the perpetrators drove off, dragging her 13 blocks before her death.

“A tragic accident, all too common where I live, the violence in carjacking,” Talbot said. “The way it was explained to me by someone who works in the district attorney’s office was that if this woman would have lived, that this perpetrator would have been charged with just regular carjacking, that there wasn’t additional penalties for causing serious bodily injury.”

Four teens — John Honoré, 17; Lenyra Theophile, 15; Mar’quel Curtis, 15; and Briniyah Baker, 16 — were charged in Frickey’s death and have pleaded not guilty. New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said public outrage over the incident, including tips through a CrimeStoppers hotline and witness statements, helped authorities locate the teens involved.

“It does in fact take a village to ensure the safety of our city,” Ferguson said, according to WDSU. “Thank you for getting us to this point, but we should not stop.”

Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams, who campaigned in 2020 on a promise to never charge juvenile offenders as adults, announced the teens would be charged as adults, the television station reports.

In New Orleans, crime statistics show the majority of carjackings in the city last year were committed by juveniles, with 100 juveniles arrested compared to 49 adults, many of which were between the ages of 18 and 21. In at least 64% of the 253 total cases, the stolen vehicles were quickly recovered, according to WWL-TV.

“What that suggests is the motive was not to sell the car or bring it to a chop shop and salvage parts from it, it’s transportation,” Rafael Goyeneche, president of the non-profit watchdog group The Metropolitan Crime Commission, told WWL-TV.

Lawmakers in the House approved SB 161 with a vote of 86-1. It passed the Senate in March with unanimous approval.

Due to the amendment in the House committee, SB 161 returned to the Senate for a concurrence vote, which is scheduled for Thursday.

If approved, the measure would then head to Gov. John Bel Edwards for his signature.