Making Law in the Wake of Tragedy.

More than two years ago, two parolees allegedly broke into a Cheshire, Connecticut, home and brutally murdered the family inside; only the father survived. Among the many efforts afterward to address the crime, Connecticut's General Assembly passed a law making home invasion -- entering an occupied home with the intent to commit a crime -- a felony punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years.="http:>

Then, last month, when I was still a reporter in Connecticut, I ended up covering a stupid crime of an entirely different magnitude. Five teenagers who allegedly told police they thought they were breaking into an empty stash house with $50,000 tucked under a mattress instead broke into a home with a 47-year-old man and his 18-year-old daughter inside. They were charged with home invasion and face those mandatory 10 years if convicted. All of their names, even the names of those under 18, are on the public docket.="http:>

It's likely the charges will be reduced as the result of a plea bargain, because most criminal cases are resolved that way. And I doubt anyone would want the teens to go to jail for 10 years. I'm not trying to minimize the wrongness of what they allegedly did. I'm just not sure what the intent of the law is. There already is a statute that defines entering a home with the intent to commit a crime; it's called burglary. The difference is the home doesn't have to be occupied. But even if someone breaks into a home to commit as heinous a crime as the Cheshire parolees are alleged to have done, they will already face severe penalties if convicted of the crimes of murder and rape. Maybe lawmakers imagined a scenario in which prosecutors could prove suspects entered a home but couldn't prove the subsequent crimes committed once inside. In the meantime, you've got teenagers staring at 10 years. Even if they don't get it, that's where the bargaining position starts.

--Monica Potts

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