By Dave Oedel
After I wrote in the Macon Monitor that Georgia’s law giving extra time for gang-affiliated crimes may be unconstitutional as applied in Middle Georgia’s setting, Bibb district attorney David Cooke approached me to report confidently that the Georgia Supreme Court had ruled 7-0 in favor of that law’s constitutionality. As I immediately pointed out to Cooke, though, there’s a critical difference between that 2009 case of Rodriguez v. State and the case that I imagine will eventually be brought if Cooke keeps hammering gang enhancements in marginal cases.
The difference is that Georgia’s Supreme Court back in 2009 only considered the gang-enhancements law on its face, rather than as applied. Big difference. The court was being asked in the Rodriguez case whether one can imagine circumstances in which modest crimes are being committed in the furtherance of an elaborate criminal organization with far more nefarious implications.
Is that possible? Hello, Godfather. For “pranks” involving, say, a horse’s head placed in a bed to send a message, sentencing enhancements make sense.
But we’re in a very different situation in Middle Georgia. One legal problem in cases like the Zodiac and Wings Café shooting cases, like the problem with the arrests of 170 biker gang members in Waco Texas after the shootings there, is the difficulty of tying together the crime and the organization.
Almost by definition, bar brawls like all three of those are chaotic things that are the exact opposite of organization. Just because you’re the blood brother of somebody with whom you’re sharing a beer doesn’t therefore mean that you’re culpable for his crazy behavior after a shoe gets sullied.
Experts are saying that almost all the 170 arrests in Waco will be tossed out, and the authorities who arrested them will ultimately be disgraced. The same should be true if mere hangers-on are threatened with serious charges in the Zodiac and Wings cases in Middle Georgia.
Another problem, especially in the Macon context, is whether anyone can identify the organization as a viable criminal enterprise within the meaning of the act. At least the Bandidos bikers in Texas wear patches with Texas rockers, and will contest any other biker who would add a Texas rocker to his own patch. By contrast, if the officials in Macon say that there are 50, no wait, 400, gangs locally, then you know you have a major definitional and notice problem. Which is the true number? What are these gangs that you should not be part of?
From what I hear, the Promise Center insiders, Dallemand’s computeristas and the Economic Opportunity Council money-funnelers might better qualify as gangs than Johntellis Mathis and the Blacc Team. Are we counting the white-collar gangs too in the 50, or 400? And if so, where’s the prosecutorial heat there?
If our prosecutors really want to get serious, they’d quit hounding people like Johntellis Mathis and instead get Cliffard Whitby and Romain Dallemand under oath – and a few other players as well – to get to the bottom of the big-money mischief.
If we’re talking about the practical difficulties of getting after the big-money types, then using the gang law might make some sense. Until then, persecuting poor non-felons in the hood looks like shooting fish in a very small barrel. Our prosecutors, police and judiciary can, and should, do better.