Recognizing that gang activity threatens the safety and security of Rhode Island communities, Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin's legislation to provide a sentence enhancement for person who commits a felony for the benefit or at the direction of a criminal street gang is scheduled to be heard before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, Tuesday, March 25, 2014.
Under the legislation, sponsored by Senator Paul V. Jabour (D-District 5, Providence) felonies would carry a sentence enhancement of up to 10 years, to run consecutive to the underlying offense's sentence and not to be suspended by the Court. If a person is subject to the enhancement, the State must file notice with its intention to pursue the imposition of the enhancement. In determining whether to impose the enhancement, the Court must hold a sentencing hearing, where the State and defense would present evidence. If the Court finds beyond a reasonable doubt that the offense was committed for the benefit, at the direction of, or in association with any criminal street gang or criminal street gang member, with the intent to promote, further, or assist in the affairs of a criminal street gang or criminal conduct by gang members, they may impose the sentence enhancement.
Rhode Island currently has no criminal statutes specifically addressing gang violence; however, 24 states currently provide sentence enhancements for gang related criminal offenses. In 2002, the Rhode Island Justice Commission issued a Report on Youth Gangs in Rhode Island where they recommended that there should be legislation directed at gang members that can be used to enhance penalties for offenses committed on behalf of gangs. In the report, six Rhode Island law enforcement agencies estimated that there were 46 gangs and 1,389 members in Rhode Island.
"Gang violence plagues neighborhoods and communities throughout the State. Gang activity not only threatens the safety of those participating in the gang, it creates nuisances in our neighborhoods and puts innocent people at risk due to the high levels of violence and retaliation, which in turn creates innocent victims," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "By providing enhancement penalties for felonies that are committed for the benefit of or at the direction of a gang, we will be able to reduce gang related crime and violence and deter vulnerable youth from joining criminal street gangs."
Senator Jabour added, "Gangs have tremendous negative effects upon neighborhood life in our city and in others, and those who commit crimes to do their bidding or to gain status in them should be punished accordingly. This is our message to gang members: If you think being part of a gang makes you special, it will when it comes time for sentencing."