Last week, Representative Faircloth introduced a proposal to get tougher on gang-related crimes. Rep. Faircloth and the bill’s other sponsors believe that it is the right of every person to be secure and protected from fear, intimidation, and physical harm caused by the activities of criminal gangs.
House Bill 138, if passed into law, will enhance penalties for crimes committed in connection with recognizable gang activity. In addition to the standard charges for a particular crime being committed, penalties associated with those crimes will also take into account when it is committed with the assistance, guidance and control of a documented gang.
The law also comes with a clearer set of terms defining “criminal gangs,” “gang activity,” “gang members” and “gang leaders.”
Besides some enhanced penalties due to a criminal gang connection, some behavior linked to organizing and maintaining gang activity will be given a tougher classification.
Current law calls for gang members charged with a crime to have their charges upgraded to one class higher than the one associated with the original criminal offense. HB138 proposes enhanced charges for gang leaders and organizers to to be upgraded to a felony class level — two classes higher than the original felony for which the person was convicted.
Charges related to making threats of punishment or retaliation for leaving a gang will be increased in severity from a Class H felony to a Class F felony. The enhanced charges can bring with them harsher sentencing based on the state’s Structured Sentencing program.
Structured Sentencing classifies offenders on the basis of the severity of their crime and on the extent and gravity of their prior criminal record. Based on these two factors, structured sentencing provides judges with sentencing options for the type and length of sentences which may be imposed.
Some non-criminal gang activity will still be considered a public nuisance and a court can enter an order against a defendant prohibiting that person from associating with a gang for one year. But HB138 extends the duration of the court order from one year to three years.
A formal set of laws to address the growing phenomenon of urban gang-related criminal activity were first added to state statutes nine years ago. House Bill 274 established the North Carolina Street Gang Suppression Act. The 2008 bill passed in both chambers with only one “No” vote.
According to the Department of Public Safety, “the Criminal Justice Analysis Center (CJAC), in its capacity as the research arm of the Governor’s Crime Commission (GCC), has conducted research and analysis of criminal gang activity in North Carolina for the past 15 years.
The first comprehensive statewide assessment of gang activity was published in 2000 with multiple reports since that time.
Over the past 20 years, GCC has administered numerous local and statewide grants to combat the presence of criminal gangs by targeting prevention, intervention and suppression, as well as law enforcement and community gang awareness and training initiatives.
To facilitate the tracking and analysis of gangs in North Carolina, NC GangNET was started in 2003 by the Durham County Sheriff’s Office in collaboration with the Durham Police Department and funded through Governor’s Crime Commission grants.
NC GangNET is a database that has a web-based capability of allowing certified users to enter and/or view information on gang suspects and members that have been validated as such using standardized criteria.”
Since 1997, the North Carolina Criminal Justice Analysis Center (NCCJAC) of the Governor’s Crime Commission (GCC) has investigated and published more than a dozen reports on the existence and extent of criminal gangs in North Carolina. One may read the most current report here.