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Gang Enhanced Sentencing Legislation

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In 2011, Governor Haslam formed a Public Safety Subcabinet, led by Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons, and comprised of leaders from multiple state agencies involved in public safety issues. The Subcabinet developed an action plan to improve public safety in Tennessee, and addressing gangs is one of the key priorities that it identified.

The Issue

  • According to 2012 data from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, gang members now outnumber law enforcement officers 2 to 1 in the state.
  • Tennessee's current criminal gang statute is too difficult to interpret and navigate.
  • There are four separate but interlocking issues that must be proven under the current law, and each has a definition in the code that has to be lined up against the case.  These include:
  • Proving that the group is a "criminal gang;"
  • Showing that the defendant is a "criminal gang member;"
  • Showing that the gang and/or individual has committed a "criminal gang offense;"
  • Establishing that the group has a "pattern of criminal gang activity."
  • Governor Haslam is proposing legislation to rewrite and simplify the Criminal Gang Enhancement statute, T.C.A. § 40-35-121.

Gang Activity

What is Being Proposed

  • This bill will clarify the definition of a "criminal gang offense."
  • The revised statute would list the specific offenses the General Assembly considers criminal gang offenses rather than asking prosecutors and courts to interpret a vague definition as we have today. 
  • The list of offenses being proposed has been developed with input from prosecutors familiar with the most common crimes committed by gangs in their communities.
  • This change would apply to offenses committed on or after the effective date of the act, while the current language would be left to allow for the use of criminal gang offenses committed prior to the effective date in prosecution and sentencing under this statute.
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