It is an obvious statement that gangs are damaging to communities and that criminal gang laws are needed. But, too often, children who are not in real gangs are being swept into the criminal courts by the current definition of “criminal gang” and the juvenile court jurisdiction statutes. HB 1220 would make two critical changes to the juvenile code.
First, HB 1220 would change the juvenile court jurisdiction to include the offenses of criminal gang activity (IC 35-45-9-3) and criminal gang intimidation (IC 35-45-9-4). Currently, those two crimes are excluded from juvenile court jurisdiction (IC 31-30-1-4). That means that if a prosecutor simply alleges that a child who was at least sixteen years old committed either gang offense, the case is automatically filed in criminal court with the procedures and sentencing ranges faced by an adult defendant. The child never appears in juvenile court.
Second, the definition of criminal gang (IC 35-45-9-1) would be amended as follows:
“”Criminal gang” means a group with a least three (3) member that:
(1) specifically: (A) promotes sponsors, assists in, or participates in and (B) requires as a condition of membership or continued membership; the commission of a felony or an act that would be a felony if committed by an adult; and
(2) collectively: (A) engages in a pattern of criminal gang activity; and (B) is a covert or overt organization that has a command structure.”
This change in the definition would stop the ease with which three children committing an act together can be classified as a gang with the very real impact of a felony conviction and potentially damaging periods of incarceration. The current definition at a minimum only requires “three members that specifically participates in the commission of a felony, or an act that would be a felony if committed by an adult, or the offense of battery…”.