Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed legislation expanding law enforcement’s ability to bolster charges against thieves described as “traveling criminals.”
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.
With the change, officials will be able to increment the degree of a charge without proving that a person traveled across jurisdictions to thwart law enforcement’s attempts to track items stolen in a burglary.
Stuart Republican Sen. Gayle Harrell worked on the original law with help from Martin County Sheriff and former Rep. William Snyder. Two years in a row, Harrell and Snyder’s son, Stuart Republican Rep. John Snyder, led the effort to remove the requirement that authorities must prove the burglar crossed county lines in order to thwart law enforcement (HB 6037). However, the authorities would still have to prove the burglar intentionally crossed county lines.
While some have criticized the measure as a local issue, Harrell said not just Martin County — but South Florida and beyond — have been impacted by the “Felony Lane Gang,” “pillowcase burglars” and “traveling criminals.”
“I think this will give our law enforcement the ability to hopefully deal with these gangs,” Harrell told Senators ahead of a Senate vote in March. “This is organized crime that is doing this and coming into our communities.”
“As someone who’s been blessed to be raised in a law enforcement family, I take great pride in giving additional tools to our law enforcement and to our prosecutors to keep our community safe,” John Snyder told members before the House vote.
Last year, the House passed a similar bill from John Snyder by a 100-7 vote.
Last month, the House voted 79-36 to pass the bill with support from four Democrats. The near party-line split was a stark change from last year, when the House bill passed John Snyder’s similar bill 100-7.
Some Democratic lawmakers and criminal justice reform activists have spoken out against the measure throughout the committee process. Critics warned 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.
The measure will take effect Oct. 1.