Tougher penalties for drive-by shooters as JaJuan Latham Act made law

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- A bill named in honor of JaJuan Latham, a 12-year-old boy fatally shot while sitting in the back of his father's car in 2016, was signed into law by Governor Bill Lee on Monday.

The JaJuan Latham Act strengthens penalties against anyone convicted of harming a minor during a drive-by shooting. Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, co-sponsored the bill alongside Representative Rick Staples, R-Knoxville.

“This legislation was written to address the real problem of drive-by shootings, which we have seen on the rise in Tennessee,” Briggs said. “It aims to serve as a deterrent while protecting the lives of our youngest and most innocent citizens.”

Certain aggravated assault offenses would carry a harsher punishment if a gunman shoots a minor from inside a motor vehicle. Each offense will be classified one step higher than normal. Those offenses include intentional/knowing aggravated assault, reckless aggravated assault, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, and criminally negligent homicide.

At the time of his death in 2016, Latham was in his father's SUV in Mechanicsville when shots rang out at at Danny Mayfield Park, where at least 200 people had gathered for a cook-out. Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch at the time said the shooting was gang-related.

"This has got to stop," Rausch said in April 2016. "This is the second innocent young person in our community that has had his life ended by senseless violence."

Latham had just attended a basketball game as part of an anti-violence event organized by former Vol Bobby Maze. The event was in honor of Latham's cousin, Zaevion Dobson, who had been killed in a drive-by shooting just months earlier in December 2015.

“This tragedy has been extremely difficult for JaJuan’s family,” Briggs said. “We must turn back this tide of violence against our youth.”

The JaJuan Latham Act will move forward to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee for consideration. If it passes, it will move to the Senate floor for a final vote.