ALBANY, Ga. — Of the about 55 suspected Crips gang members indicted on Racketeer Influenced and Criminal Organizations statutes in August, the Dougherty County District Attorney’s office changed the charges to street gang participation for 29.
Today Dougherty County Superior Court Judge Willie Lockette plans to hear which defendants have attorneys, are ready for trial and who can be scheduled for a day in court.
On first glance, a change in charges from RICO statutes to street gang participation charges by District Attorney Greg Edwards looks like a downgrade. It isn’t, a legal expert said.
“The Georgia Anti-Gang Act is really descended from the RICO acts, and the penalties are the same,” said John E. Floyd, an Atlanta attorney and the author of “RICO State by State, A Guide to Litigation Under the State Racketeering Statutes.”
“There is a very large overlap in the law, and there is no dramatic shift from RICO to gang participation for a district attorney.”
The decision to change the charges from RICO to gang participation resulted from Edwards and his assistant district attorney, Matt Breedon, deciding to use what is known as Occam’s razor.
“The simplest way to do something,” said Edwards, “is usually the best. We decided to cut down on the volume of evidence and law so as not to burden the jury to get to the truth.”
While preparing the Crips cases for prosecution, Edwards said that he thought that gang participation statutes would be easier to explain and prove to a jury.
As an example, Edwards pulled up an already prosecuted RICO case he conducted a few years back on his computer. The case had 322 slides on a PowerPoint program. It was not a gang case, so RICO laws had to be used to prosecute a money-laundering defendant’s racketeering.
Edwards and his staff narrowed the Crips defendants’ numbers down by reasoning that many already had to serve out sentences of more than 30 years for crimes underlying their gang membership, such as aggravated assault and armed robbery.
Nearly all of the Crips gang leaders arrested in August were already in Dougherty County Jail or prison. The ones who continue to face gang prosecution could, if found guilty, head to prison with an additional 15 years tacked onto their underlying crime sentences.
This was the first operation in Dougherty County using the RICO statutes, Edwards said, adding that his staff learned from the experience.
Edwards said, “Investigators testified in court that since the raid, not a single Crips gang-related crime has been recorded.”