SWINDLE COLUMN: Criminal gang activity in Georgia

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Over the years, criminal street gangs have spread out from Atlanta to west Georgia and the rest of the state. 

As a result, lawmakers have strengthened and broadened the law. 

Although very unwise, it is not illegal to belong to a gang.  However, it is illegal to engage in criminal street gang activity.

But, a person does not have to directly commit a crime or even be a “member” of the criminal street gang to be convicted.

“Criminal street gang activity” covers a broad number of actions that can lead to trouble. A person can be convicted if he engages in the commission, attempted commission, conspiracy to commit, or solicitation, coercion, or intimidation of another person to commit a serious crime. 

“Criminal street gang” means any organization, association, or group of three or more persons associated in fact, whether formal or informal, which engages in criminal gang activity. The existence of such organization, association, or group of individuals associated in fact may be established by evidence of a common name or common identifying signs, symbols, tattoos, graffiti, or attire or other distinguishing characteristics, including, but not limited to, common activities, customs or behaviors.  O.C.G.A. §16-15-4 sets out the offenses that are related to criminal gang activity. Because the law is so lengthy, I have listed the five most common acts that trigger a prosecution below. It is unlawful for:

1. A person employed or associated with a criminal street gang to conduct or participate in criminal gang activity through the commission of a crime.

2. Any person to commit an offense with the intent to obtain or earn membership or maintain or increase his or her status or position in a criminal street gang.

3. Any person who occupies a position of organizer, a supervisory position, or any other position of management or leadership with regard to a criminal street gang to engage in, directly or directly, or conspire to engage in criminal gang activity.

4. Any person to cause, encourage, solicit, recruit, or coerce another to become a member or associate of a criminal street gang, to participate in a criminal street gang, or to conduct or participate in criminal gang activity.

5. Any person to communicate, directly or indirectly, with another any threat of injury or damage to the person or property of the other person or of any associate or relative of the other person with the intent to punish or retaliate against such person for providing statements or testimony against criminal street gangs or any criminal street gang member or associate.

The penalties for participating in criminal street gang activity are staggering. 

The sentence for a conviction of the above is a felony conviction with consequences of a prison sentence for at least five years but no more than 20 years or pay a fine between $10,000.00 and $15,000.00, or both.

The war on gangs is very much worthwhile. My wife, my boys, and I live in this community. We are grateful for the service that law enforcement provides in helping keep us safe and secure from violent gang members. 

But, there is a problem with the law. Sometimes, innocent men and women are arrested. This is because the law is so broad and loosely defines exactly who is a true gang member and who simply affiliates with gang members. The law just makes it too easy for prosecutors to charge people who hang around bad crowds, but do not commit crimes.

The gang laws are likely to stay the same or get tougher.   From a political angle, I don’t expect a member of the Senate or House taking on the cause of weakening or fixing the overly broad aspect of the law anytime soon.