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State Senate approves wide-ranging reforms to Georgia’s gang laws

The state Senate Thursday approved a wideranging bill aimed at stemming the tide of gang-related crime in Georgia.

Sponsored by Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, the 10-page bill makes a number of changes to Georgia’s criminal law to address gang violence.

Albers said he consulted a wide range of groups in crafting the law, including prosecutors, judges, victims’ rights groups, district attorneys, trial lawyers, 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 forcible felony or domestic violence.

Currently, the penalty can range from one to five years in prison. Under Albers’ bill, it would increase to at least five years behind bars.

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

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

Local governments and others would also be able to bring civil, not just criminal, actions against gang members. The bill would also consolidate the venues in which criminal convictions could be pursued.

“Oftentimes, gang members will continue to move around from county to city,” Albers said. “Rather than trying to prosecute that in multiple areas, it allows them to consolidate it in one single venue.”

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

The bill would also require that people convicted of the repeat offense of abuse of children, people with special needs, and elderly people receive the maximum sentence possible in most cases. It also allows prior evidence to be used in prosecuting people charged with those crimes.

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

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

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