States Lock In Laws Addressing Fear of Crime
Whatever else the new year brings, Americans will see a raft of new state laws aimed at making them feel more secure.
Around the country, lawmakers have come down harder on criminals, particularly young ones. A look at state laws that took effect Sunday offers a glimpse of what the nation has on its mind.
“Legislators play to public concerns, and crime was the concern through most of 1994,” said Larry Sabato, a professor of government at the University of Virginia.
One of the toughest new crime laws is Georgia’s “two strikes, you’re out” measure, which imposes life without parole for a second violent offense. Voters overwhelmingly approved the punishment on Election Day.
New Jersey’s “Megan’s Law” will require police to inform communities when dangerous offenders are in their midst. It was prompted by the slaying of 7-year-old Megan Kanka, allegedly by a convicted sex offender living across the street.
Under New York’s tough new domestic violence law, arrest is mandatory when someone violates an order of protection or stalks or hits a family member.
In New Hampshire, killing a judge or prosecutor now brings the death penalty. Torturing cats or dogs can lead to seven years in prison.
Minnesota bridges the gap between juvenile and adult justice by allowing judges to hand offenders ages 14 to 17 a juvenile sentence plus a tougher adult one. If the teen-ager keeps his record clean, the adult sentence will be dropped.
In Florida, where a rash of crimes by teen-agers against tourists prompted the Legislature to act, the worst offenders ages 15 to 18 will be sent to new juvenile jails for 1 1/2 to 3 years. Previously, such criminals were held for weeks or months in less restrictive detention centers.
Prosecutors in Florida will also find it easier to try 14- and 15-year-olds as adults. Illinois lowered its threshold from 16 to 15.
Virginia, Texas and Illinois enacted tougher drunk driving laws, requiring the suspension of driver’s licenses.