After more than an hour of heated debate on the last day of the legislative session, the House approved recurring legislation imposing additional penalties – up to an extra ten years – on individuals who participate in crimes if they are deemed to do so as part of a vaguely defined “criminal street gang.” The legislation, which passed the Senate in April broadly defined a “criminal street gang” to include any group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal, which has an identifiable name or sign, color or symbol. Further, the legislation does not require a person to be a member of the gang in order to suffer enhanced penalties, just be associated with any person subjectively determined to be a member. As a result, the bill’s greatest impact could be on young people coerced into engaging in criminal conduct on behalf of a gang. The ACLU and more than 20 other community organizations reiterated these concerns to Governor Chafee, asking for a veto, but he signed the bill into law on July 1.
Street Gangs (H 7457 as amended, S 2639 as amended)
Representative Raymond Hull and Senator Paul Jabour