Sentencing Guidelines Commission reverses course on carjacking

In a dramatic move Thursday, the MSGC reversed course and voted 7-2 to enhance the penalties for carjacking in Minnesota.

Surveillance video captures a Minneapolis carjacking near the University of Minnesota campus in November 2022. (Crime Watch Minneapolis)

(Center of the American Experiment) — The legislature acted this past session to create a new law defining carjacking as separate and distinct from robbery. It left the decision of ranking the severity of sentences to the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission (MSGC).

After a few months of debate, the MSGC appeared set to maintain the status quo, and apply no different or enhanced penalties to the new crime. This represented a tone-deaf approach to a crime that has had a devastating effect on Minnesota.

In a dramatic move Thursday, the MSGC reversed course and voted 7-2 to enhance the penalties for carjacking in Minnesota. In effect, 1st degree carjacking will now be sentenced commensurate with 3rd degree murder and 1st degree assault, applying a presumed 86-month sentence for a first offense.

This represents a significant win for public safety in Minnesota, and a significant win for the public comment process.

public awareness campaign initiated by Center of the American Experiment led to over 2,350 public comments in support of the increases being sent to commissioners prior to the vote. Several commissioners commented on the need to recognize the public comment process and consider the public demands for greater accountability.

“The public clearly wants more than putting a new label on an existing offense and existing penalty,” said Michelle Larkin, a Minnesota Court of Appeals judge and MSGC commissioner. “We have to give this crime teeth so it’s more than just a label.”

During debate in the public comment meeting, MSGC Chair Kelly Mitchell argued that the new law offered an opportunity to “tease out” data about carjacking. The public let it be known that “teasing out” data was not what Minnesotans were asking for or what Minnesotans needed.

Carjacking in Minnesota increased over 500% between 2019-2020. In 2021 nearly two people per day were carjacked in Minneapolis. When a public safety threat explodes on the scene the way carjacking has, the public has a right to expect authorities will respond promptly and with purpose.

The 7-2 majority vote Thursday was a move in the right direction, and the enhanced penalties will ensure our state begins sending a deterrent message to those inclined to commit carjacking.


David Zimmer

David Zimmer is a Public Safety Policy Fellow at Center of the American Experiment.