The Alabama District Attorneys Association is pushing a litany of bills related to public safety that will soon emerge for consideration in the coming weeks as the Alabama Legislature begins its regular legislative session, according to Association President Daryl Bailey and Executive Director Barry Matson.
Bailey, who serves as Montgomery County’s District Attorney, said in an interview with APR on Tuesday that the centerpiece of the legislative package being pushed by ADAA relates to violent crimes, including a bill that would add additional penalties for individuals convicted of a violent crime who are caught in possession of a firearm.
“What we have found is that really nothing is happening to those individuals,” Bailey said. “They’re not really being punished for subsequently having this firearm, and what we also have found is that these are the same individuals that are continuing to commit crimes of violence.”
The bill, as described by Bailey, would add a five-year minimum sentence for individuals previously convicted of a violent crime who are caught with a firearm after being released from prison. In addition, those who are caught using a firearm during a violent offense would receive a minimum of ten years in addition to any sentence for the violent charge they catch.
Individuals convicted of the weapon’s offense would not be eligible for probation, nor community corrections and sentencing guidelines would not apply, according to Bailey, who believes this legislation would impact violent crimes in the same manner as the federal Project Isolating the Criminal Element, or Project I.C.E, launched in the 1990s.
“When that was being used frequently by the federal government, we saw a decrease in violent crime,” Bailey said. “I know we did in Montgomery, and we saw it really helped.”
State Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, filed a similar bill related to gun possession by felons during the previous legislative session.
Both Bailey and ADAA Executive Director Barry Matson said that the state law allowing the concealed carrying of a firearm without a permit, which went into effect earlier this year, would not have an effect of the overall effectiveness of the bill.
Legislation related to organized retail theft, which Matson said is a growing problem statewide, is also being pushed by the ADAA for passage this session.
Bailey mentioned that thousands of items that were stolen from a nationwide retailer in Montgomery were discovered in a storage unit on that Tuesday morning.
“Retail theft is a massive problem in our state; it’s a $100 billion criminal enterprise nationally,” Matson said on Tuesday. “They’re organized, They’ve got a leadership structure, and they have a way they distribute and sell the items either online or in other ways.”
Alongside criminalizing organized retail theft, the association is pushing to reform Class D felonies in the state, according to Bailey.
“The Class D felony experiment in Alabama has been a failure,” Bailey said.
If a judge orders those convicted of Class D felony to spend time in state custody, they will do so in a community correction facility, not a state prison, for no more than two years under the statute. Class D felonies are considered between 1-and-5-year sentences.
Bailey said that this felony classification has “killed our diversion programs” and taken the teeth away from judges when handing down a verdict.
“Because of the class D felony, it has really destroyed those diversion programs and our drug courts,” Bailey said. “But the other thing is, you get these individuals who are committing crimes with zero consequences, and what that has led to is a huge increase in retail theft.”
Most recently, a bill touching on concerns that the ADAA had with fentanyl and minimum sentencing requirements for possession of the synthetic opioid was filed by state Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne. Bailey said that ADAA is working with Simpson in supporting his bill.
“We had almost 30 overdoses in about a three-month period, and almost all of those were fentanyl-related,” Bailey said, referring to overdoses in Montgomery over the recent months.
Simpson’s bill awaits debate in the state House Judiciary committee beginning tomorrow morning.