Calling All Conservatives: Anti-Gang Legislation

The conservative Democrat, Diane Feinstein, has coupled with uber-right Senator Orrin Hatch to create S. 1735, an ill-advised anti-gang bill which may make it to the floor of Congress for a vote this coming Thursday. We'll be arguing against this bill until then. We urge you to stand up for sane juvenile justice measures and oppose the political pandering and fear-mongering of S. 1735.
Here's why:

Less than 18 months after the Senate passed rational and balanced federal juvenile justice legislation, two Senators have introduced a harsh, punitive new bill that would expand the use of the death penalty and create new, ill-defined crimes.

Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have introduced the Gang Prevention and Effective Deterrence Act of 2003 (S. 1735), a measure that includes dangerous provisions that would expand the use of the death penalty to additional crimes and create additional federal "gang" crimes that lack clear definition.

Under this proposed legislation, people could be convicted and sentenced to death for ill-defined illegal "participation" in a "gang," which could be as few as three people. The law’s loose definitions and expansion of the death penalty would increase the probability that people are wrongly convicted and possibly even executed. In addition, prosecutors, not judges, would have discretion to send juveniles into the adult correctional system, and experiment that's been tried with disastrous effects in California and Florida.

The Hatch-Feinstein bill has raised concerns from a wide variety of groups, including the ABA, death penalty and juvenile associations. Read why here. Their leading concerns are (1) the expansion of the federal role of prosecuting juveniles as adults and (2) the unnecessarily broad federalization of street crimes now generally prosecuted at the state level - including several provisions that make
state murder offenses death-eligible under federal law - and a provision (section 105(e)) that eliminates the "intent to cause death or serious bodily harm" requirement of the existing federal carjacking law (18 U.S.C. 2119) - thus making nearly every car theft a federal offense.

Read this letter sent to Hatch and Feinstein by the Children's Defense Fund, the National Urban League, Human Rights Watch, the ACLU, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and scores of other groups

In an effort to address these and other concerns, Senators Durbin, Feingold, Leahy, and Kennedy have introduced an alternative bill, S.2358, the ANTI-GANG Act. Some of the differences between the two bills are discussed in this section-by-section summary and Senator Kennedy's floor statement.

S.1735 has been held over at three consecutive mark-ups in the Judiciary Committee, but it is likely to be voted on next Thursday morning. Some conservative groups are on our side on this one, particularly due to the federalization issue. We're asking that you familiarize yourself with the legislation and let your Senator know you oppose it. Take action here and stand up for a sane, juvenile justice policy.

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