District Attorney Neal Pinkston said a new ruling by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals says gang members cannot be given enhanced sentences just because they are in a gang.
He had been criticized earlier for not seeking extra time for gang members in line with the city's Violence Reduction Initiative.
After the ruling, the District Attorney's Office said, "Yesterday’s ruling does change things in relation to the Violence Reduction Initiative.
"It does not matter that cases brought through the Violence Reduction Initiative have not been based on the gang enhancement statute.
The Court of Criminal Appeals decision prohibits prosecutors from asking for longer sentences simply because defendants are affiliated with gangs. Not even an extra day can be added to a defendant’s sentence simply because (s)he is a gang member. The Court gives a number of hypothetical scenarios that make it exceptionally clear it is unconstitutional to penalize a defendant solely based on gang affiliation.
"Also, sentencing ranges are based solely on the number of prior offenses and the types of those offenses. Gang affiliation has no bearing on sentencing ranges.
"The main portion of the Gang Enhancement statute is still intact. As General Pinkston recommended to Chattanooga city council several weeks ago, it should be used to establish a defendant’s criminal behavior was committed in furtherance of a gang’s activities. This is the best way to receive tougher punishments in state court.
"Otherwise, to get violent gang offenders off the streets for extended periods, officers need to find ways to build federal cases or need to build solid state investigations to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt on violent felony charges.
"Yesterday's decision leaves no other options."
District Attorney Pinkston said he has offered to train Chattanooga police on what the ruling means as the impact is much broader than just sentencing enhancement.
to read the opinion.