Bill would expose dogfighters to possibility of racketeering charges



Those caught engaging in dogfighting rings could soon face racketeering charges if a proposed bill becomes law this year.

Current law allows prosecutors to indict people on racketeering charges if someone shows a pattern of participating in at least two activities from a list of associated crimes in state law — such as forgery and homicide — as part of an organized criminal enterprise.

Senate Bill 68, sponsored by Milledgeville Republican state Sen. Rick Williams, would add dogfighting to that list. It passed the Senate Public Safety Committee on Wednesday on a party-line vote of 5-3, with Republicans supporting the measure.

“I hope this will give our police and prosecutors a stronger tool to target these organized criminals,” Williams said.

Organizing a dogfight already is a felony offense under current law and carries a sentence of one to five years, a fine of at least $5,000 or a combination of both on the first conviction. Any additional convictions would require a sentence of between one and 10 years in prison or a fine of at least $15,000.

Anyone convicted of being a spectator at a dogfight is guilty of a misdemeanor. A second spectator conviction is a felony offense that carries a sentence of one to five years, a fine of at least $5,000 or a combination of both.

Adding dogfighting to the activities that lead to a racketeering conviction could result in a sentence of no less than five and up to 20 years in prison on a first offense.

SB 68 is part of a flurry of legislation that’s been filed by Republican lawmakers this year seeking to beef up sentencing, Williams filed the legislation last week on behalf of Lt. Gov. Burt Jones.

“As you know, the Senate is currently considering other legislation, endorsed by Gov. (Brian) Kemp and Lt. Gov. Jones, to step up the penalties under the law,” Williams said.

State Sen. Kim Jackson, a Stone Mountain Democrat, said she voted against the bill because of the pattern of her Republican colleagues introducing “tough on crime” bills that increase penalties for laws that are already on the books.

“The dogfighting law, it’s already a felony,” she said. “It works. People get caught for dogfighting and you lock them up for a year to five years. This expands it and basically forces people to have to stay in prison for even longer.”

The bill is supported by the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. GBI Executive Director John Melvin, who previously served as a prosecutor, said he’s tried racketeering cases that range from shoplifting to gang-related murders.

“When you look at dogfighting, it’s one of the most savage, vicious crimes in the state of Georgia, and so I’ll put those people on the continuum of murder,” Melvin said. “If we are allowing a (racketeering) prosecution for somebody that passes multiple checks, certainly we can take the power of that statute and apply it to those that are engaged in the most savage, vicious crimes in the state of Georgia.”

Senators amended the bill to include gamecocks in anticipation of legislation making its way through the Capitol that would make rooster fighting illegal. That bill, House Bill 217, was filed last week.