- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2004

RICHMOND — Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore said yesterday he plans to introduce legislation that would toughen Virginia’s anti-gang laws by allowing civil courts to crack down on gang activity.

Mr. Kilgore wants to modify nuisance statutes to include behavior by criminal street gangs. The so-called “gang injunction” would allow community members or law enforcement officers to stop gang activity by filing documents in civil court, which holds a “lower standard of proof” than in criminal court, Mr. Kilgore said. Those who violate the injunction could be held in contempt of court.

California and other states have begun similar efforts, “and it is time to bring this effective practice to Virginia,” Mr. Kilgore said.

Mr. Kilgore, a Republican running for governor against Democratic Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, also said he plans to seek legislation creating gang-free school zones and making it a misdemeanor for a lawyer to disclose personal information about a victim or witness to a defendant or the defendant’s family without a court order.

“We have seen witnesses killed by gangs for simply telling police what they knew, and we cannot let this happen again,” Mr. Kilgore said.

Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia American Civil Liberties Union, said that stiffening gang laws could result in innocent people being accused of crimes.

“Anti-gang laws assume that anyone who belongs to a group has committed a crime,” Mr. Willis said. “The courts find that a lot of anti-gang laws violate due process.”

Other public-safety measures include legislation to allow the state to appeal the dismissal of a warrant or other related charge or count if it was dismissed because it was filed after the deadline requiring that defendants get a speedy trial.

Mr. Kilgore also wants to eliminate the automatic life-imprisonment measure if a jury cannot unanimously vote for death in the punishment phase of a capital murder trial. Instead, the judge “will be able to dismiss the hung jury and impanel a different one to consider whether a defendant should receive the death penalty,” he said.

“What he seems to be saying is that if the jury refuses to issue the death penalty, then he wants a new jury,” Mr. Willis said. “It’s a very aggressive law that looks as if its purpose is to send more people to the death chamber, more frequently. It has nothing to do with justice.”

Mr. Kilgore also will introduce legislation to eliminate Virginia’s “triggerman rule,” allowing courts to impose the death penalty on other persons involved in the crime, not just the one who actually committed a slaying. A similar measure failed in the previous legislative session.

Mr. Willis said state legislators in recent years “have begun to understand the inequities in Virginia’s death-penalty system, and even they are beginning to reform the system. This goes in the opposite direction, and it doesn’t seem likely that legislators will go along.”

In terms of fighting the methamphetamine industry, Mr. Kilgore has previously said that he will propose legislation doubling the minimum prison time for making the illegal stimulant to 10 years and establishing a separate crime for making meth in the presence of a child.

Mr. Kilgore also wants to create a multiagency strike force to remediate highly toxic meth labs and require the offenders to pay the cleanup costs. The drug is having a large effect in Mr. Kilgore’s native Southwest Virginia, where state police say nearly three-quarters of Virginia’s suspected labs have been found.

Other legislation would:

• Create a Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Act, which would require that any proposed regulations include a description of how the regulation would affect small businesses.

• Require that a person’s full legal name appear on his or her driver’s license, to help curb identity theft.

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