Goveror Bill Haslam on Wednesday held a ceremonial bill signing in Memphis for legislation that rewrites and simplifies the criminal gang offense enhanced punishment law.
Gang-related crimes are of increasing concern across Tennessee, in the state’s rural and urban communities, and the bill, HB 196/SB 202, changes the definition of “criminal gang offense” from a vague and broad definition to a specific list of offenses that will make it easier for prosecutors to seek a greater sentence.
“The good news is the number of repeated violent crimes in Tennessee is decreasing. Yet, we continue to have one of the highest violent crime rates in the nation,” Governor Haslam said. “This legislation gives prosecutors another tool to fight criminal gang activity and help make Tennessee safer.”
According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, through May of this year murders are down almost 22 percent, robberies have decreased almost 17 percent, and aggravated assaults have declined more than 20 percent compared to 2010.
The offenses included in the legislation are crimes that Tennessee communities combat every day, such as robbery, carjacking, and drug possession with intent to sell, among others. Under this new law, if one of the defined offenses is committed, prosecutors must also prove the defendant committed the crime as a part of a criminal gang and must prove the defendant is a member of the criminal gang to enhance the sentence.
The gang enhanced-sentencing bill is one of several pieces of legislation introduced by the administration to address the challenge of gang violence in Tennessee. Other laws enacted since 2011 create tougher sentences for certain types of crimes committed by three or more acting in concert, tougher sentences for convicted felons who persist in illegally possessing guns, and mandatory sentences for repeat domestic violence offenders where physical injury is involved.
The new legislation is effective July 1.