Gov. Signs Legislation Toughening Georgia Gang Penalties – WABE

Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law tougher gang-crime penalties in Georgian law at a county sheriffs meeting on Wednesday, marking the passage of one of his top legislative priorities for 2023 after the Republican made tackling crime a priority in his re-election campaign last year.

“We specifically chose this venue today to sign some legislation, to let you know that we stand with you as a partner in the fight,” Kemp told members of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association meeting on Lake Lanier Islands.

Senate Bill 44 adds five years to anyone convicted of a gang crime and ten years to anyone convicted of recruiting minors into a gang.

“We’re helping disrupt their recruitment efforts and we won’t stop until the Georgia gangs are completely gone because their members are behind bars and unable to recruit new members to replace them,” said Kemp.

The law, which goes into effect July 1, reverses a trend in Georgia championed by Kemp’s predecessor, fellow Republican governor Nathan Deal, of reducing mandatory penalties or refusing to introduce new penalties.

Democrats who opposed the measure said lengthy prison sentences would be costly for taxpayers, although there is little evidence they deter someone from committing a crime. Critics also said the bill would place unreasonable restrictions on judges’ ability to deliver sentences.

Under Georgia’s earlier anti-gang law, anyone convicted of criminal gang activity can be sentenced to an additional five to 20 years in prison, but a judge has the power to waive an additional prison term.

Judges could order a reduction in prison terms by listing specific findings, including that a defendant did not possess a weapon or had no criminal record.

Those convicted of recruiting minors for gangs face a minimum of 10 years in prison unless a prosecutor applies to the court for a reduced sentence because an accused has provided significant assistance to other criminals.

The measure also allows judges to require cash bail from defendants who have been sentenced to bail in the past five years or who have had an arrest warrant issued for failing to keep a court date. Also, judges must consider a person’s criminal record before releasing them without requiring cash bail.

Proponents argue that the state must lock up previous offenders before trial to deter further crimes, although judges are already refusing to bail those they deem a threat to public safety.

Kemp said the rules would “address the revolving door of the criminal justice system.”

“I know that, like our state partners, you are all fed up with chasing the same people day after day and night after night,” Kemp said.

The governor also signed seven other bills into law, including:

– House Bill 227 that would make it a crime to use electronic or physical means to attack infrastructure,

– Senate Bill 155, which clarifies the state law making it a crime to harm a police dog or a search and rescue dog.

– Senate Bill 215, which would allow law enforcement officers to remove their own or their spouse’s home address and phone number from all property records on a county government website.

– Senate Bill 60 making it more difficult to buy or sell autocatalysts to reduce theft.