New gun law could keep criminals in jail longer

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Knoxville (WVLT) - It's being called the "Crooks With Guns Law." It's Tennessee's latest attempt to keep criminals in jail longer if they use a gun to commit a dangerous felony.

Volunteer TV court reporter Rob Pratt has more on what the new law means.

"The Wiggle room is being taken out of the law and the wiggle room is being taken out of the sentencing. So it's going to be a lot easier for us to get lengthy sentences for people who want to use a firearm or possess a firearm during crime," prosecutor John Gill said.

As a prosecutor, John Gill likes the new law that took effect January 1. He says it will mean lengthier stays in prison for criminals who possess or use guns. The new law actually creates a separate new offense, creating new prison time that will be added to the punishment for the other crime. For example, in a home invasion where a gun is used, the conviction would have it's own punishment with the new gun law sentence added to it. For some criminals, it could mean up to ten extra years in prison, which must be served at one-hundred percent. Gill hopes that will discourage criminals from using guns in crime, but he says even if criminals don't listen now, the new law still protects us all.

"We know that if a lot of those kind of people are kept off the street, then a lot of crimes that would otherwise have been committed are not going to be committed, and that's the critical factor," Gill said.

Not all crimes will be covered. So called "dangerous felonies" include certain types of homicides, burglary, kidnapping, stalking and drug offenses. Still, prosecutors say that list is long enough to give them plenty of chances to use the new law.

While the new law may keep people in jail longer, meaning they won't crowd the court dockets with repeated returns to court, Gill says it may slow down the criminal justice system in another way. With such stiff penalties and mandatory sentences, more defendants may demand a trial.

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