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Sunday, December 08, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Govt adds ‘ammo’ in fight against crime
Anti-Gang Act was passed on May 23, 2011 and came into force on August 15, 2011. The act seeks to reduce criminal gang activity by making membership of gangs and related activities unlawful. The act defines a “gang” as a combination of two or more people, whether formally or informally organised, that, through its membership, or through an agent, engages in any gang-related activity. “Gang-related activity” comprises involvement in a range of offences. These include murder, robbery, larceny, arson, firearms and ammunition offences, drug trafficking, rape, kidnapping and attempts to commit any of those offences.
Offences and penalties
Section 5 of the act declares all gangs to be unlawful. Any person who is a member of a gang, or who, to gain an unlawful benefit, pretends to be a gang member, commits an offence and is liable to imprisonment for ten years. If convicted a second time, the penalty is 25 years imprisonment. Where the accused person is a gang leader, or member of the protective services, the term is 25 years. A gang member includes a person who voluntarily associates himself with any gang-related activity, or who knowingly performs or aids any such activity. A person who takes part in or assists in the carrying out or concealment of a gang-related activity is liable to imprisonment for 20 years.
The act allows any evidence reasonably tending to show the existence of, or membership in, a gang to be used in court. Such evidence may include any common name, insignia, flag, secret signal, code, structure, or geographical or territorial location of the gang. Where a person, by whatever means, aids, forces, or encourages another person to be a gang member, or prevents or attempts to prevent a gang member from leaving the gang, he or she is liable to 25 years imprisonment. Further, any person who recruits or attempts to recruit a gang member is liable to imprisonment for ten years. Where the recruit is a child, the penalty goes up to 15 years. Any such recruitment which occurs within 500 metres of a school or place of worship, attracts a sentence of 20 years. It is also an offence to harbour or hide a gang member who is wanted by law-enforcement authorities for any gang-related activity. A person who commits this offence is liable to five years’ imprisonment.
Powers of the police
A police officer may arrest, without a warrant, a person who he reasonably believes to be a gang member, or who he reasonably believes to have committed an offence under this act.
If an officer has a reasonable belief that a gang member may be found in a particular residence, he must get a warrant before he can enter and search the premises. However, no warrant is needed to search any place or premises not used as a dwelling house or residence.
Finally, a police officer may, without a warrant, detain any person reasonably suspected of having committed an offence under the act for up to 72 hours without charging him for the offence.
• This column is not legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should consult a legal adviser.
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