Georgia Senate approves sweeping reforms to state gang laws

ATLANTA — The state Senate on Thursday approved a sweeping bill aimed at stemming the tide of gang crime in Georgia.

The 10-page bill, sponsored by Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, makes a number of changes to Georgia’s criminal code to tackle gang violence.

Albers said he consulted with a variety of groups in drafting the law, including prosecutors, judges, victims’ rights groups, prosecutors, trial attorneys, activist groups and others.

“This is much-needed and real criminal justice reform,” Albers said.

The legislation increases the penalty for possession of a firearm by a person convicted of a violent crime or domestic violence.

Currently, the penalty can range from one to five years in prison. Under Alber’s bill, it would increase to a minimum of five years behind bars.

Oconee Blotter:“One more step” and the homeowner expects to shoot the intruder

Stop telemarketing:Georgia Senate unanimously approves bill to expand Georgia’s “do not call” law

The measure also introduces a number of procedural changes to Georgia’s gang laws. If passed, it would mandate that Superior Court judges conduct all bond hearings for gang crimes. Currently, judges sometimes conduct these hearings.

Albers gave the example of a 2010 murder of a child by a gang member who had been released on bail by a judge.

Local governments and others could also bring civil, not just criminal, lawsuits against gang members. The bill would also consolidate the places where criminal convictions could be prosecuted.

“Often gang members continue to move from county to town,” Albers said. “Rather than trying to track this in multiple areas, they can consolidate it into a single place.”

Certain past crimes could also be used to prove gang membership.

The bill would also provide that those convicted of repeat offenses of abusing children, people with special needs and the elderly would receive the maximum possible sentence in most cases. It also allows previous evidence to be used in the prosecution of those accused of these crimes.

The state Senate approved the bill by a vote of 44 to 8. It will now go to the Georgia House of Representatives for consideration.

This story is available through a news partnership with the Capitol Beat News Service, a Georgia Press Educational Foundation project.