Kemp signs crime crackdown bills into law, including tough new penalties for gangs recruiting minors

Georgia State Capitol on mostly sunny day

by Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]

April 26, 2023

A bill signed by Gov. Brian Kemp at a Lake Lanier resort on Wednesday creates a five-year mandatory prison sentence for gang-related offenses and adds five years for recruiting minors into gangs.

Senate Bill 44, Kemp’s signature crime-fighting measure for 2023, was part of a package of public safety bills signed by the Republican governor during a ceremony on Wednesday during the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association Command Staff Conference. 

In front of the crowd of law enforcement officials, Kemp stressed the importance of supporting their mission to reduce the number of gang members who have become a violent nuisance, not only in urban areas, but also in rural areas.

“We will not let up in Georgia until gangs are literally gone because their members are behind bars,” Kemp said. 

The stiffer prison sentences for street gang offenses are not met with universal support. There is concern among Democratic legislators, criminal justice reform advocates, and the state association of public defenders that the new sentencing guidelines will have unintended consequences.

Several critics have argued that the new law significantly limits a judge’s discretion in determining the most effective sentencing based on the individual circumstances of a case, and that it undermines the state’s recent criminal justice reform platform that emphasizes rehabilitation over longer prison sentences.

The new law prohibits a judge from releasing someone from jail on a signature bond with the promise to appear in court, and requires a judge to consider someone’s criminal history before releasing them from custody.

During debate on SB 44 during the legislative session, Sen. Josh McLaurin, a Sandy Springs Democrat, said requiring cash bail for crimes other than gang-related offenses could lead to someone getting arrested for a minor traffic offense if they have already been charged with failure to appear in court.

Other bills Kemp signed on Wednesday include House Bill 227, which strengthens criminal penalties for damaging critical infrastructure. The bill is a response to coordinated plans by white supremacists in other states who attempted to sow racial discord by attacking electric power and water systems.

Kemp updated the law to give police more authority to charge people who sell stolen catalytic converters to fund their drug habit.

Additionally, Kemp signed measures on Wednesday eliminating a requirement that prosecutors disclose home addresses and other personal information when calling non-sworn employees of law enforcement to testify at criminal trials. 

A new law also allows police officers and other law enforcement personnel to remove some personal information from public records.

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