During the marathon closing day of Georgia’s 2023 legislative session late Wednesday, lawmakers submitted to the governor an approved, highly controversial law-and-order bill that would increase prison sentences for street gang crimes and also lead to more criminal charges for those accused Criminals must post bail out of jail.
With the support of the Republican-majority House and Senate chambers, the primary street gang is Governor Brian Kemp Senate Act 44 now waiting for his signature. It was the high-profile criminal justice legislation of the 2023 session when Republican leaders pledged tougher penalties to clamp down on crime in the Atlanta metro area and the rest of the state. Democratic lawmakers warned about the governor’s street gang legislation would further undermine recent advances in criminal justice reform that prioritize rehabilitation rather than harsh jail and prison sentences.
The state’s attempt to stem the violence includes a mandatory five-year minimum sentence for street gang offenses and a mandatory 10-year minimum sentence for underage recruitment. Persons convicted under a compulsory sentence serve the entire period of imprisonment with no chance of a suspended sentence or commuting to a suspended sentence.
The governor’s group leader, Senator Bo Hatchett, said the bill sends a signal that street gangs and members who recruit minors will be punished more severely in the justice system.
“There’s no place for street gangs in Georgia,” Republican Cornelia said.
The final version of the House replacement bill passed on Wednesday prevents a judge from allowing a person to be released from prison on a signature statement promising to appear in court. The House of Representatives also added a provision requiring a judge to consider a person’s criminal history before releasing them from custody after an arrest without the need to post bail or bail.
Senator Josh McLaurin, a Sandy Springs Democrat, said the bill would have serious unintended consequences because it would require cash bail for crimes unrelated to gang crimes.
According to McLaurin, the bill now requires someone pulled over for a broken taillight to be arrested if they have a previous five-year non-appearance charge on their record.
“The point of the bill before you, and the bills that precede it, is to make it more difficult for judges who are elected officials to make borrowing decisions that appear lenient,” McLaurin said. “Even if the judge has a pathetic case in front of him, someone who’s really at stake with their work, with their employment situation, has a lot of difficulty finding transportation, to get to court, to get to work, that.” The judge no longer has discretion to show mercy and compassion.”
According to Hatchett, the bill gives a judge the ability to overturn a warrant issued for lack of jurisdiction, stopping the five-year period that could result in a future arrest.
No reform of bail payments is made
The House of Representatives also voted 95 to 81 for Republican Senator Randy Robertson of Cataula in the session Senate Bill 63, but time was running out without the Senate casting a crucial vote on a bill that would add to the felony list 30 criminal charges requiring an arrested person to post bail in cash or property as security in order to be released from prison.
Robertson’s bill could come back for the 2024 session. He said the bill would further encourage people to comply with the law while they wait for their case to be resolved, as they will be required to deposit money or property as collateral to avoid imprisonment.
The new charges, which would require more than signed bail, range from negligent marijuana possession to obstructing a law enforcement officer to credit card fraud.
Theft by robbery, reckless driving and criminal trespass would require cash bail if it is the person’s second or subsequent offense if the law goes into effect.
Many advocates of criminal justice reform oppose the bill because it would force many people to spend more time in prison for nonviolent crimes if they don’t have the money to buy their way out.
Those extra days behind bars could mean the difference between remaining in the workforce and being a part of society, some lawmakers have argued.
Lithonia Democrat MP Dar’shun Kendrick criticized the limitation of a judge’s discretion to consider the circumstances of each individual case.
“Why do we have elected officials when we just have to keep telling them how to do their jobs,” she said.
Rep. Teri Anulewicz complained that many Republican lawmakers were rolling back reforms on bail payments and diversion programs like accountability courts led by former Republican Gov. Nathan Deal.
“SB (63) is just an attempt to overturn the reforms of Gov. Deal to roll back those reforms that in many cases have won unanimous approval in this chamber,” the Smyrna Democrat said. “It’s just another way to honor the legacy of Gov. destroying the deal.”
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