Bill creating harsher penalties for gang activity gets Alabama House committee approval

By: - April 18, 2023 11:01 am
The dome of the Alabama State Capitol can be seen, along with a clock on the building.

The Alabama State Capitol photographed during inauguration ceremonies in Montgomery, Alabama on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. (Photo/Stew Milne)

The House Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a bill calling for harsher penalties for gang activity.

HB 191, sponsored by Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, enhances penalties for a crimes that could benefit a gang.

The bill creates mandatory consecutive penalties for those who use a firearm for gang-related activity.  It would also require 16-year-olds accused of gang activity to be tried as adults. The current age is 18.

“I was asked to carry for the Attorney General’s Office, and for good reason,” Treadaway said Wednesday. “We are seeing a lot more of this activity. We are seeing violent crime go up. We are seeing victims and perpetrators much younger than we have in the past.”

The bill states that a person can be classified as a gang member if someone admits to belonging to a gang or is identified by a parent or informants.

A person can be identified as a gang member if the person meets at least three of the following criteria: dresses like a member of a gang, flashes hand signs of that of a gang, has the same tattoos as that of gang, associates with at least one member who is in a gang, is seen around members of a gang or communicates with a member of a gang when committing a crime.

If a person is classified as a member of a gang, the bill then enhances penalties for crimes the person commits. Those convicted of a Class A felony for gang-related activity would serve at least 25 years. Any felony crime that is less severe is enhanced by one degree.

Under the bill, a Class B felony becomes a Class A felony, punishable up to 99 years or life in prison and a $60,000 fine. A Class C felony becomes a Class B felony, which carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years and a $30,000 fine. Class D felonies become Class C felonies, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

The bill creates penalties for carrying a gun, sentencing people to at least 5 years in prison for having a gun during any gang-related activity. It sentences someone to at least 7 years for brandishing a gun, at least 10 years for firing a gun or carrying a short-barreled shotgun. The prison term becomes at least 30 years for carrying a machine gun or using a silencer. All sentences will also be consecutive.

Some members of the committee had concerns with language within the bill.

Rep. Ontario Tillman, D-Birmingham, criticized the criteria for labeling someone as a member of a gang, saying it could incriminate people who have family members who are gang members. It also creates issues if someone is simply walking past a group of people who are allegedly part of a gang.

“All of these things are problematic because it is fashion,” he said. “You are talking about a kid who might want to wear something of those colors. And now we are going to say that you are a gang member.”

Treadaway said that the situation must be looked at in totality, with different factors coming into play to draw a conclusion. He also said the criteria is used by other states to classify people as members of a gang.

Other members of the committee noted that the state was struggling with violence and overcrowding in prisons.

“Do we not have an answer besides locking people up?” said Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa. “Again, there is a commodity. When you run out of that commodity, let’s say the commodity here is jail space and prison space, so if your only answer becomes incarcerating everybody, that means eventually you won’t be able to incarcerate anybody.”

Rep. Penni McClammy, D-Montgomery, asked if the system could provide more services instead of turning to incarceration more often.

Treadaway however was unmoved.

“Unfortunately, there’s people out here who are hell bent on killing people,” he said. “I have seen it firsthand. I can’t tell you how many homicides I have been on, hundreds. You know what, I care more about those victims, and the families they have left behind, than we care about these folks in these prisons that have a revolving door, coming in and out.”

The bill moves to the House of Representatives.

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Ralph Chapoco
Ralph Chapoco

Ralph Chapoco covers state politics as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. His main responsibility is the criminal justice system in Alabama.