Proposed Oregon bill may promote prejudice

An 18-year-old was killed in a shooting after a fight in a local gas station parking lot, and police could not arrest the shooter until after the killing. Aimed at putting a stop to such avoidable acts of violence, the state of Oregon lawmakers are deliberating on a bill that would enable police to bring criminal charges against someone just for being related to a street gang.

At present, authorities can track gang members, but there is no law against being a gang member even if the gang is repeatedly linked to criminal activities. A house representative stated that currently, police can do nothing about gang members who own legal guns. House Bills 2679 and 2851 would make just being a gang member a felony.

The representative added that the proposed law will not only give judges the authority to punish gang members but will also enable them to issue tougher penalties to anyone who is found guilty of a gang-connected crime. Gang-related convictions would also be entered into the police data system with a special description, giving state authorities a heads-up that an individual has committed a crime tied to gang activity.

However, what constitutes membership in a gang? The bill's lack of definition may create confusion that could violate the due process of a defendant who may have no knowledge of criminal activity. Such a bill may also create a norm of prejudice that conflicts with the principle that the accused is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. When anyone is accused of a committing a crime, they are innocent until proven guilty. Normally, guilt by association alone is not a punishable offense. Portland, Oregon, residents who have questions about their criminal defense, including details on the proposed bill, may seek clarification from a legal professional who is knowledgeable about Oregon law changes and who is competent in helping people exercise their legal rights.


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