By Greg Peppers
Prosecutors in Maryland say they need stronger laws against gangs. They say the existing statute isn’t working, and that’s prompted a state delegate to introduce new legislation that she says will strengthen the current law.
Maryland Prosecutors say the existing law to combat gangs contains too many loopholes. They say it isn’t working because it fails to adequately define criminal gang activity. Prosecutors also say the current statute sets the burden of proof too high and doesn’t contain strong enough penalties.
Delegate Gerron Levi, a Prince George's County Democrat, has introduced legislation that she says goes above and beyond the current statute.
"This would establish one uniform way across the state to determine who is a gang member," he says. "It would add to current law a number of new crimes for which prosecutors could prosecute gang members for gang related crimes, such as witness intimidation, second degree assault and things of that nature."
The new legislation does have its critics. Public defenders say the legislation would create bounds for overly broad prosecutions. The Maryland Association of Resources for Families and Youth also opposes the bill.
"By the broadening of what criminal gang offenses are and gang affiliation they're going to be bringing into the system more kids who may have only had incidental contact, a family member for example who is involved with a gang," says Shelley Tinney, the group’s Executive Director.
Statistics provided by the Maryland State Police show that gang activity has been reported in 22 of Maryland’s 23 counties.