Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin praised Governor Lincoln Chafee for signing legislation that provides for sentencing enhancement for individuals who are convicted of a felony and are found to be associated with a criminal street gang.
The legislation (H7457/S2639), submitted at the request of Attorney General Kilmartin, was sponsored by Representative Raymond A. Hull (D – District 6, North Providence, Providence) and Senator Paul V. Jabour (D – District 5, Providence). Under the terms of the law, the Attorney General may seek a sentence enhancement for an additional term of not more than 10 years for any person who is convicted of any felony that is knowingly committed for the benefit, at the direction of, or in association with any criminal street gang.
"Gang violence is a reality for many of our urban neighborhoods and communities throughout the state. It 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, like Aynis Vargas, Elaine Devargas, Eugelyn Cabrera-Martinez and Vilma Tineo, all innocent victims of a senseless rivalry between two feuding street gangs in Providence," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "By providing enhancement penalties for felonies committed for the benefit of or at the direction of a gang, we will be able to reduce gang-related violence and deter vulnerable youth from joining criminal street gangs. I applaud Governor Chafee, and the General Assembly, for sending the message that gang violence won't be tolerated and for giving my Office the tools to effectively prosecute violent gang members."
The legislation is based upon similar legislation in numerous other states and is designed to provide enhanced penalties for those defendants whose motivation to commit crimes comes from their loyalty to a criminal organization, and whose disregard for public safety has resulted in numerous deaths and serious injuries, particularly from gun violence.
The law, which takes effect immediately, lays out a rigorous procedure which the Attorney General must follow prior to imposition of this enhanced sentence.
First, not later than the first pretrial conference, the Attorney General must file with the Court a notice specifying that the defendant, upon conviction, is subject to the imposition of this enhanced sentence.
Following a plea or jury verdict finding the defendant guilty of the underlying felony, the Court must conduct a sentencing hearing. At the hearing, both the Attorney General and the defense have an opportunity to present evidence regarding whether sentence enhancement is appropriate.
In order to be eligible for sentence enhancement, the jury or Judge must determine – beyond a reasonable doubt – that the defendant's actions were motivated in support of criminal street gang activity, as set forth in the act. Any enhanced sentence shall run consecutively to the sentence for the underlying offense.