a. A person who is at least 18 years of age who knowingly uses, solicits, directs, hires or employs a person who is in fact 17 years of age or younger to commit theft of an automobile is guilty of a crime of the second degree. Notwithstanding the provisions of N.J.S. 2C:1-8 , a conviction under this section shall not merge with a conviction for theft of an automobile. Nothing contained in this act shall prohibit the court from imposing an extended term pursuant to N.J.S. 2C:43-7 ; nor shall this act be construed in any way to preclude or limit the prosecution or conviction of any person for conspiracy under N.J.S. 2C:5-2 , or any prosecution or conviction for any other offense.
b. It shall be no defense to a prosecution under this section that the actor mistakenly believed that the person which the actor used, solicited, directed, hired or employed was older than 17 years of age, even if such mistaken belief was reasonable.
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