The General Assembly adjourned Sine Die close to 1:00am on Friday, March 31st. The session was one of the most challenging in years with lawmakers, prosecutors and law enforcement in Georgia seemingly emboldened by the new resurgence of the tough on crime rhetoric at the national level. Most of the criminal justice legislation introduced in 2017 was in stark contrast to the successful smart on crime collaborations passed in recent years. This year there were efforts to: increase mandatory minimums, expand the offenses for which children can be tried as adults, require people who solicit prostitutes to register as sex offenders and require a public hearing before someone can be released from parole if there is opposition from the prosecutor or victim.
Despite the political reversion, there were still several bills that passed this year that will positively impact people and their families in the criminal justice system. These include early termination of probation for certain offenses, a presumption of indigency in felony probation, the conversion of fines and fees to community service and the expansion of retroactive first offender treatment. During the session, SCHR testified at legislative hearings, drafted legislative amendments, researched and discussed the impact of proposed legislation with sponsors and members of the relevant committees, and worked with other advocacy groups to lessen the negative impact of some bills and advocate the need and effectiveness of others.
Here is a recap of the criminal justice bills introduced during the 2017 session:
CRIMINAL JUSTICE BILLS THAT PASSED IN 2017
•HB 261 – Allows individuals sentenced to a term of incarceration between 3/18/1968 and 10/31/1982 to petition for retroactive first offender status and establishes that the Code Section applies to any sentence entered on or after 3/18/1968.
•HB 341 – Expands the definition of sex trafficking to include individuals who solicit a subject of sexual servitude; clarifies sentencing; modifies the human trafficking hotline; requires 24 hours of imprisonment for those convicted of pandering or pimping; clarify provisions related to consecutive sentencing and amends the sex offender registry to include the broader definition of ‘sex trafficking’.
•HB 343 – Changes the outdated and offensive terminology of ‘mental retardation’ to ‘intellectual disability’ throughout the Code.
•HB 452 – Requires the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to create and maintain a website that will list immigrants who lack legal status, were convicted of a serious violent crime and have been released from federal custody into Georgia; expands the definition of ‘domestic terrorism’ and enhances punishment.
•SB 160 – “Back the Badge 2017” enhances penalties for serious violent crimes against public safety officers; requires mandatory minimum prison terms for serious violent crimes against public safety officers; enhances obstruction statute; clarifies penal institution riot statute and increases state payment to the decedents of fallen officers
•SB 174 – Establishes early termination of probation for certain offenses after three years of sentence compliance; allows people on active probation to be moved to unsupervised status despite the nonpayment of fines and fees; expands the use of accountability courts; creates a presumption of indigency in the assessment of financial obligations and allows a court to convert fines/fees to community service; expands the program and treatment certificate
•SB 176 – Provides reforms to the criminal procedure and drivers’ licenses; to provide for the procedure of issuing bench warrants for certain traffic violations; to remove a barrier to a habitual violator probationary license; to change provisions relating to third and subsequent convictions regarding controlled substances or marijuana.
•SB 160 - Requires children to be charged as adults for aggravated assault with a firearm and aggravated battery against a public safety officer.
•SB 175 - Provides reforms to juvenile court proceedings to allow juvenile courts to impose certain conditions on parents, guardians and legal custodians of children who are in need of services, delinquent or involved in a court’s community based risk reduction program; to change provisions related to the detention of a delinquent child who has been determined to be incompetent; to provide professional input as to the detention of a child who has been deemed incompetent.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE BILLS THAT DID NOT PASS IN 2017
•HB 34 – Transfers some responsibilities from the parole board to the Department of Community Supervision (DCS) and to the superior court in which a person was convicted; requires a public hearing before release if the prosecutor or victim is opposed.
•HB 151 – Prohibits the use of restraints on incarcerated women during child labor.
•HB 466 – Allows the Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC) to give the public and employers a “data base extract file” without requiring fingerprinting or consent.
•HB 606 – Provides for the issuance of driving cards to noncitizen residents who are ineligible for a driver's license, temporary permit, or identification card
•HB 623 – Allows GCIC to retain fingerprints of certain individuals under certain circumstances and submit such fingerprints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation related to beverages, banking and finance, civil practice, commerce and trade, criminal procedure, domestic relations, education, fire protection and safety, guardian and ward, health, insurance, law enforcement officers and agencies, mental health, military, emergency management, and veterans affairs, motor vehicles and traffic, penal institutions, professions and businesses, and social services
•HR 630 – A resolution creating the House Study Committee on Sentencing Alternatives for Misdemeanors
•HR 687 – A resolution creating the House Study Committee on Court Surcharge Fees Related to DUI and Reckless Driving Offenses; and for other purposes.
•HR 689 – A resolution creating the House Study Committee on the Transfer of Probation Supervision in Misdemeanor Probation Cases; and for other purposes.
•SB 4 - Creates a Mental Health Treatment Task Force and Advisory Council to understand the needs of GA residents with serious mental illness and substance abuse disorders, to assess the ability of the heath system to meet these needs effectively and to understand the impact of ineffective treatment on state budgets, hospitals, emergency rooms, jails, prisons, law enforcement and related institutions/services.
•SB 39 – Increases penalties for pimping and pandering and requires registration on the Sex Offender Registry upon a second conviction for pandering.
•SB 105 – Provides that possession of two ounces or less of marijuana constitute a misdemeanor and changes provisions relating to punishment.
•SB 127 and SR 146 – Resolution enshrines victim’s rights into the state constitution and the bill allows a victim in a criminal case to file a motion with a court to allege the ‘Victim’s Bill of Rights’ has not been followed and seek injunctive relief.
•SB 185 – Changes the standard of proof placed on individuals with intellectual disabilities in death penalty cases in Georgia from “beyond a reasonable doubt” to “preponderance of the evidence.”
•SB 189 – Shifts responsibility and authority within GPDC to the director; narrows the class of juvenile court cases the public defender is obligated to handle and bars courts from appointing public defenders to people who have not been approved for representation by GPDC; increases and improves training of public defenders.
•HB 53 – "Raise the Age” changes the jurisdiction of the juvenile court to include children who are under the age of 18 years.
•HB 259 – Requires children ages 13 and older to be tried as adults if charged with aggravated assault or aggravated battery.