Georgia Senate backs Kemp’s push for tougher gang penalties – WABE

Georgia senators support Gov. Brian Kemp’s push for long prison terms for gang members and even longer prison terms for anyone convicted of recruiting minors for a gang.

The Senate voted 31-22 Monday for Senate Bill 44, mostly along the party line. The measure, which is being moved to the House for further debate, would add five years to the sentences for anyone convicted of a gang crime and ten years for anyone convicted of recruiting minors into a gang.

The bill reverses a trend that has seen Georgia lawmakers reduce penalties or refuse to add new ones. Now, Kemp and other Republicans who campaigned to fight crime last year say more criminals need to be locked up for long distances.

“There’s no place for gangs in Georgia, and they don’t have to go after our kids,” said Sen. Bo Hatchett, a Cornelia Republican who is the Kemp parliamentary group leader.

The measure would require anyone convicted under Georgia’s comprehensive anti-gang statute to serve at least five years in state prison in addition to any other sentence, limiting judges’ ability to reduce sentences and prosecutors an unusual move grants the right to appeal reduced penalties.

The bill would also give anyone convicted of recruiting a minor for a gang 10 more years without the possibility of parole or parole.

Georgia already has an extension from five to 20 years for gang convictions, but judges can issue probation instead of jail. Under the new bill to go below the five-year minimum, a prosecutor could seek leniency in cases where a defendant assists an investigation.

Judges could order a reduction in prison terms if they list certain determinations, including that a defendant did not have a weapon, is not a gang leader, has no prior conviction for a criminal offense, or did not cause death or injury. Prosecutors would be given a new right to appeal this leniency to scrutinize judges who might be seen as lenient on crime.

Sen. Harold Jones II, an Augusta Democrat who opposed the measure, said many petty crimes, including assault and simple drug possession, can be crimes prosecuted under Georgian law as part of a gang.

“We may include individuals within the felony who do not need to be apprehended,” Jones said.

However, opponents said that Georgian laws already provide for harsh penalties and there is no evidence that criminals are deterred.

“What do we want to address?” asked Senator Derek Mallow, a Democrat from Savannah. “Is it leniency in sentencing? I don’t think that’s a big problem here in Georgia. And increasing penalties, if that was the absolute deterrent to crime, we shouldn’t have crime.”

Opponents also warned that the 10-year solicitation sentence would ultimately be imposed on child trafficking victims who recruit other children. However, Hatchett said prosecutors are not trying to prosecute sex trafficking victims. Senators, by a vote of 28 to 25, rejected an amendment specifically excluding them from the bill.

“The reason we meet mandatory minimums, if we ever do them, is because we are confident that every single member, without exception of that class, deserves at least that penalty,” said Senator Josh McLaurin, a Democrat from Atlanta. “I’m telling you, Georgia child sex trafficking victims who are involved in this mess are out of their question.”