Alabama lawmakers gave final approval on Thursday to legislation that could lead to lengthier prison sentences for felonies committed as part of a “criminal enterprise.”
The House of Representatives voted 95-6 for the Senate-passed bill intended to allow stiffer penalties for those involved in organized crime groups, including street gangs. The legislation now goes to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey.
The legislation provides penalty enhancements if prosecutors prove the defendant was a member of a criminal enterprise and the crime was committed in the interest of that criminal enterprise. It also sets mandatory minimum sentences when a gun is used in commission of the crime.
“Alabama has seen an increase in gang-related violence and other organized crime, but this legislation shows that we are serious about fighting back,” Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement about the bill. “The immense support for this effort from both sides of the aisle has galvanized and motivated the entire law enforcement community.”
The bill was approved with broad support after it was heavily changed from an initial proposal focused on street gangs. The initial version drew pushback from Democrats and advocacy groups who said it could lead to draconian sentences because of loose criteria for labeling someone as a gang member. They also said the focus should be broadened from street gangs to all criminal organizations, including domestic terrorist groups.
The approved bill defines a criminal enterprise as an alliance or network of three or more people who through their membership are engaged in a pattern of criminal activity. The bill would require prosecutors to show that someone met at least three of 10 possible criteria, such as having the group’s tattoo, associating with other members, adopting the group’s style of dress, using hand signs associated with the group or admitting to being a member of the enterprise.
Supporters described the bill as a tool for law enforcement.
But Democratic Rep. Juandalynn Givan, who voted for the bill, said that if Republican lawmakers are serious about addressing violent crime they should bring legislation to address guns.
“There are enough laws on the books in the state of Alabama to cover any charge that we have for any crime,” Givan, of Birmingham, said. “We need to be bringing legislation to take these guns out of the hands of these young folks who are killing people in mass numbers. And a lot of these kids are not in gangs. They’re not.”