Prosecutor says change in gang law could cut sentences for some convicts

JACKSON, Tenn. — A change in how Tennessee prosecutes gang members could put criminals out on the street sooner. The district attorney’s office said the new statute could potentially affect dozens of cases in West Tennessee.

courtThe Tennessee attorney general announced this week he will not fight a ruling that deems the state’s gang enhancement law unconstitutional. “You could see people who could potentially get a reduction in their sentence,” Assistant District Attorney General Jody Pickens said.

Pickens said over the last few years his office has used the statute to prosecute about 20 confirmed gang members and have another 20 or so current cases they believe have a gang element to them. “We’re looking at those on a case-by-case basis to see what if anything needs to be done,” he said.

In the past, just being a gang member could get a person a more severe punishment. A new statute requires prosecutors to show a connection between the crime and gang affiliation.

“If you can connect it that way, you’re not violating any constitutional issues,” Madison County Circuit Court Judge Roy B. Morgan Jr. said.

Morgan said the ruling could affect several cases in Madison County. “I would anticipate that they will come back through the court system, be back in court, and the district attorney general will have to address those cases,” Morgan said.

Pickens said the district attorney’s office is still looking at the new statute. “Where you can prove it, we’re going to go ahead, we’re going to prosecute these people, these gang members to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.

The Jackson Police Department’s gang unit declined to comment. The district attorney’s office has a gang prosecutor who focuses on these cases.

Jackson Mayor Jerry Gist said despite the change they are going to keep working to try to keep gang activity down in the city.

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