A bill that would expand law enforcement’s ability to bolster charges against criminals who cross county lines to commit a burglary cleared its final committee stop Thursday.
State law currently allows authorities to enhance burglary charges if the offender crossed county lines to commit the crime. The same law, however, also requires authorities to prove a burglar moved across county lines to thwart law enforcement and counter property recovery efforts.
Authorities would no longer need to prove motive as a prerequisite under the proposed measure. Republican Sen. Gayle Harrell of Stuart is the bill sponsor. Harrell suggested the motive to cross county lines is always to avoid detection.
“That is essentially what all burglaries are about. This element has become impossible to prove in court and therefore no cases have been prosecuted under this law,” she said.
The Senate Rules Committee OK’d the bill (SB 360) in an 11-6 vote without questions or debate. The bill now awaits the full Senate’s consideration.
The proposal comes after lawmakers in 2014 created the enhancement in response to a wave of organized theft that originated in South Florida. Dubbed as “felony lane gangs,” organized criminals found success at the time by targeting neighboring counties as a way to evade law enforcement.
“We’ve had a huge rash of burglaries in the past 10 years,” Harrell noted.
Some Democratic lawmakers and criminal justice reform activists have spoken out against the measure throughout the committee process. Critics warn the bill would give authorities too much discretion, which they say may amplify biases against communities of color.
Additionally, critics contend the bill would send more people into prison at a time when the state prison system is under duress. The attention of lawmakers, they often argue, is best focused elsewhere.
If signed into law, the bill would take effect Oct. 1.
Republican Rep. John Snyder is sponsoring the House companion (HB 6037).