State's attorneys push to amend anti-gang bill

March 30, 2007|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,Sun reporter

Maryland state's attorneys said yesterday that they would no longer support legislation to strengthen gang prosecution approved by the House of Delegates unless the Senate reinstates key provisions of the bill.

"With the current language, to say that the bang isn't worth the buck, is putting it mildly," said Frank M. Kratovil Jr., the state's attorney for Queen Anne's County and president of the Maryland State's Attorneys' Association. "Without the amendments we are proposing, it's not a reasonable compromise. It's simply not sufficient."

Last week, the House voted overwhelmingly to approve the measure, 134-1. But prosecutors said the final version had been amended so much in committee that it had lost much of its bite.

Prosecutors throughout Maryland, along with Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, helped craft the legislation.

The prosecutors said they wanted a bill that would help them combat Maryland's burgeoning gang problem by going after criminals and their accomplices who orchestrated gang-related crimes. Prosecutors wanted to stiffen sentences for gang-related crime and to give local jurisdictions a law similar to federal racketeering statutes.

"This doesn't really give us any more than what we have now," Kratovil said. "What we wanted to be able to do is get a person who not necessarily participated in the crime, but who knew that the gang was engaged in criminal activity and had participated in some action to further gang activity."

Lawmakers' changes included cutting the maximum penalties from 30 years to 10 in some instances and leaving it up to judges whether to order concurrent or consecutive sentences.

Legislators also struck language that would allow prosecutors to charge individuals regardless of whether they were aware of the crimes their fellow gang members had committed.

Del. Jill P. Carter, a Baltimore Democrat, who headed the subcommittee that drew up the amendments to the bill, said she does not think the legislature will compromise on many of the provisions.

"We were concerned about kids who may live in the area that may hang out with some of the people in the gang, but may not be engaged in the activity. We didn't want them swept up in this," she said. "We wanted to crack down on real gang activity; we don't want to hurt innocent kids."

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said she was concerned months ago that the legislation did not go far enough. She pushed a measure that would order gang members to forfeit property and allow prosecutors to charge juveniles 16 and older at the circuit court level.

"The House committee made it worse than when I was angry with it," she said. "Prosecutors understand that legislation for gangs is not the be all and the end all to our gang problem; it's just one tool in their toolbox. But they want it to be a tool they can use, not one that impedes their ability to fight gangs."

Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said there is still time to hash out the differences.

"Negotiations are still going on," she said. "We support the states' attorney's efforts and the changes they are seeking."

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