Sentencing: House Passes Orwellian "Anti-Gang" Mandatory Minimums 5/13/05

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Seventy-one House Democrats voted with a near-solid Republican majority to approve an "anti-gang" bill that includes many new and increased mandatory minimum sentences, including increased penalties for some drug offenses. H.R. 1279, "The Gang Deterrence and Community Protection Act of 2005," introduced by Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) in the midst of a manufactured hysteria linking gangs to concerns over illegal immigration and fears of terrorism, is now headed to the Senate.

Among the bill's numerous harsh provisions are sections that redefine gangs as three or more people who commit at least two crimes defined as "gang crimes," and define "gang crimes" as any violent crime, attempt to intimidate witnesses, firearms violations, or drug distribution or trafficking.

Most Orwellian, however, is a section that defines nonviolent drug trafficking offenses as violent crimes. Previously "crimes of violence" only included felonies that involved in a substantial risk of force. Under this bill, however, a violent crime is redefined as "any other offense that is an offense punishable by imprisonment for more than one year and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force may be used against the person or property of another, or is an offense punishable under subparagraphs (A), (B), or (C) of section 401(b)(1) of the Controlled Substances Act." In other words, drug trafficking offenses.

According to an analysis by Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the bill also:

  • Creates new mandatory minimum sentences for "aid to racketeering."
  • Creates new death penalty offenses.
  • Redefines "car jacking" to eliminate the requirement that the offense include the "intent to cause death or serious bodily harm."
  • Creates a new mandatory five-year minimum sentence for providing weapons to drug traffickers.
  • Creates mandatory consecutive sentences for violent crimes in aid of racketeering activity.
  • Creates new mandatory consecutive sentences for murder and other violent crimes linked to a drug trafficking offense.
"If you join a violent criminal gang and commit a gang crime, you'll go to jail for a long time," said Rep. Forbes.

Or maybe even if you don't.

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Issue #386 -- 5/13/05

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