Gang gun law: New statute mandates prison for gang members caught with loaded weapons

By John Byrne (Tribune Reporter)
December 4, 2009
gun
Chicago authorities praise law as key tool to battle street crime.
CHICAGO – Gang members caught with loaded guns would face mandatory prison time under a new law signed Thursday by Gov. Pat Quinn and hailed by Chicago authorities as a unique tool for fighting street crime.

The statute sets a minimum sentence of three years and a maximum of 10 years behind bars for unlawful use of a weapon by a gang member; under previous law such an offense was punishable by probation. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who pushed for the measure, said she believes it is the first state law to include gang membership as an element of the criminal offense.

At a news conference with Quinn and Mayor Richard Daley, Alvarez predicted the law will withstand any legal challenges alleging it unfairly targets a particular group of people.

“There could be a challenge to anything. We can’t predict that. But we feel confident,” Alvarez said.

Daley likened the law to federal criminal statutes targeting organized crime.

Family members of slain Chicago police Officer Alejandro “Alex” Valadez were also on hand at the Englewood District police station. His June 1 death in a drive-by shooting was cited as giving the measure momentum.

Three people have been charged in Valadez’s death. One is a gang member who was on probation for aggravated unlawful use of a weapon at the time of the shooting, the state’s attorney’s office said. He would have been in jail if the new law were in effect, the office said.

The statute defines a gang as any group of at least three people with a hierarchy that engages in a pattern of criminal activity. The law specifies it is not necessary for prosecutors to show the criminal group has a name, insignias, colors, territory or other symbolism commonly linked with street gangs in order to apply the law to members.

“If they’re on a corner throwing up a gang sign or wearing the colors, it’s pretty self-evident,” Alvarez said. “There’s a lot of self-admittance on the police reports themselves, tattoos, prior history. There’s a lot that comes into play to support the fact that they are members of a gang.”

Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the group is not taking a position on the legislation because the definition of “gang” in the statute has withstood court challenges in DuPage County, where prosecutors used the same definition in several civil lawsuits against gangs there.

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