Currently, the people who work in a nondescript Macon building monitor vehicle traffic in the area. Soon, they will monitor gang criminal activity instead.
“Anywhere there is the ability to make money, criminal street gangs are going to have a hand in it,” said Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Ken Howard. “You’re going to see… once we get our feet wet, a direct impact on violent crime, other crimes, property crimes, things of that nature,” he promised.
“With all of the latest modern technology, where all law enforcement can get together and collaborate, we’re to not just go out and attack the problems in downtown Macon, but where they radiate outside of those borders, as well as they come back inside those borders,” he added.
This move coincides with a renewed push to enhance gang crime penalties. “There’s no room for gangs in Georgia, and you don’t need to come after our children,” declared Sen. Bo Hatchett, a Cornelia Republican who is one of the bill’s co-sponsors.
The measure would require that anyone convicted under Georgia’s sweeping anti-gang law serve at least five years in state prison on top of any other sentence, restricting judges’ ability to reduce sentences and giving prosecutors an unusual right to appeal lesser sentences. Furthermore, the bill would impose a mandatory 10 additional years, with no possibility of probation or parole, for anyone convicted of recruiting a minor into a gang.
Gang Crime Law in Georgia
The street gang crime law in the Peach State is already one of the broadest and harshest ones in the country. Gang membership isn’t a requirement for prosecution under O.C.G.A. §16-15-4. Some potential standalone crimes include:
- Committing any crime as part of gang conduct or participation,
- Attempting to gain membership or increase status by committing any crime,
- Directly or indirectly acquiring or maintaining, through criminal gang activity, proceeds derived from any interest in or control of any real or personal property of any nature,
- Gang leadership that involves a criminal conspiracy,
- Causing, encouraging, soliciting, recruiting, or coercing another individual to join or associate with a criminal street gang, to participate in a criminal street gang, or to conduct or participate in criminal gang activity, and
- Directly or indirectly threatening bodily harm against anyone considering leaving a gang, joining a rival gang, or testifying against a gang member.
That’s a very long list with a lot of Legalese, so we’ll use some illustrations to break it down a little more. What is clear is a Section 16-15-4 conviction could mean between five and twenty years in prison. The judge will also issue a permanent no-contact order regarding anyone who is in any street gang, even if that person is a blood relative or lifelong friend.
Assume Jerry believes that if he shoplifts, he’ll become a member of Gang X. Jerry’s belief could be based on a Gang X promise. Or it could be no more than wishful thinking. Either way, if Jerry shoplifts, which is normally a petty misdemeanor, he’s looking at some very hard time.
Now assume Jerry knows the neighborhood drug dealer. He never participates in any criminal activity, but sometimes, the local drug kingpin gives Jerry a few dollars. Once again, simply by accepting that money (property) and spending it (having an interest in or control of it), Jerry could be looking at hard time.
The criminal street gang definition is broad as well. Basically, a gang is any three or more people who come together, formally or informally, which engages in criminal gang activity. This activity involves a long list of offenses as well, including:
- Racketeering activity,
- Aggravated sexual battery,
- Aiding or encouraging a child to escape from custody,
- Criminal trespass or criminal damage to property, or
- Any criminal offense in the State of Georgia, or in the United States that involves violence or possession or use of a weapon.
Significantly, such criminal activity need not be the gang’s sole purpose, or even primary purpose. Furthermore, one rogue member who commits a listed crime for a lister purpose could taint everyone in the gang. A single bad apple spoils the barrel.
Gang-Related Criminal Defenses
Many people associate gang activity with Sharks vs. Jets-type stuff. Such activity is common. Since kids live close together in big cities like Atlanta, tensions are often high. Furthermore, kids in smaller communities, like Macon, often have nothing better to do.
Apropos of nothing, we think it’s interesting that the 1961 West Side Story reflects the often-twisted morality of that day. Censors forced the filmmakers to remove every last bit of vulgarity and sexuality, but they had no problem with the fact that the Sharks actors wore brownface makeup. The producers even had a very young Rita Moreno in brownface, and she is Puerto Rican.
Back to the blog. Most of the gang crimes that a Marietta criminal defense lawyer deals with are drug trafficking gangs. These crimes normally involve extensive investigations and search warrants. These warrants are often defective.
Investigators often take shortcuts in these situations. Large, multi-agency investigations cost lots of money. As these investigations wrap up, officers are anxious to make a high-profile arrest, or better yrt several high-profile arrests, to justify that time and expense.
Legally, search warrants must be based on probable cause affidavits. Generally, multiple agency investigations involve some judge-shopping. If one judge refuses to issue a warrant, investigators simply ask another judge, who is usually in another county. This kind of judge-shopping is technically legal, but it’s also basically an admission that the officer didn’t have probable cause.
This admission often isn’t too far off base. Many drug trafficking warrant applications over-rely on snitches. Commonly, officers arrest lower-level gang members who aren’t as careful as gang leaders. Then, in exchange for leniency, this defendant gives up the name of the next-highest member. Then, officers lather, rinse, and repeat until they get to the top.
Once again, this technique is technically legal. However, uncorroborated informer testimony is almost always unreliable. Many people will say almost anything if they think leniency is an option.
Incidentally, such promises are always empty promises. Police officers can ask prosecutors to go easy ion defendants, but the prosecutor can say yes or no. Additionally, judges have the final authority in this area, and there’s no telling what they may or may not do.
Gang crimes are very serious in Georgia, but these cases have lots of moving parts. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal defense attorney, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. We routinely handle matters in Cobb County and nearby jurisdictions.