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Fleeing police in Alabama could mean 20 years in prison

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Videos of police chases have caught the public’s fancy in this age of reality TV. But Alabama’s attorney general hopes to curb them by making sure any driver who hits the gas gets a new mailing address for a long time.

The address would be at a state prison for up to 20 years.

“When they do that, they endanger the lives of everyone on the road,” Attorney General Troy King said.

King has worked with panels of law enforcement officers and crime victims to prepare a package of bills for the current legislative session. Several of the bills stem from issues popularized by TV or created by new technology.

King said one of the most-sought-after measures by law enforcement is increasing the penalty for attempting to elude police from a misdemeanor to a felony when a vehicle is involved.

If a person simply attempted to flee in a vehicle, the punishment would be one to 10 years. That would cover an O.J. Simpson-type of fleeing, which was watched by millions of Americas on live TV.

If the fleeing motorist created the risk of death, such as running stop signs and red lights, the penalty range would increase to two to 20 years in prison. The maximum punishment now is six months in jail.

King’s bill, sponsored by state Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Bayou La Batre, got approved unanimously by the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and goes next to the House.

Collier, a former state trooper, said the bill could save lives: “All we are doing is making a crime out of something that is bad and has caused people to get killed.”

Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, said there are times at night when she would be afraid to stop in an isolated area. Collier said all a motorist has to do is slow down and put on flashers until reaching a safe area.

“That lets the officer know you see him and intend to stop when it’s safe. That’s not eluding,” Collier said.

Another of King’s bills will be familiar to anyone who has watched Dateline NBC’s popular “To Catch a Predator” series, where police pose as teens on the Internet to arrest adults seeking sex with minors.

Police in Alabama were doing that before the TV show became a ratings winner, but King said there have been a few problems prosecuting men for solicitation of a minor because the Internet messages were written by adult police.

He is proposing legislation that would make clear such law enforcement techniques are permissible.

Another bill would expand Alabama’s community notification law so that freed sex offenders would have to give police more than just their physical addresses. They would have to notify police of their e-mail addresses and any Web addresses.

King said the Internet has become a powerful tool in recruiting new victims. “We think it’s important they register their cyber address,” he said.

The Internet is also being used to sell the artwork of famous killers, including Alabama death row inmate Jack Trawick, who killed two women in Birmingham in 1992.

King is proposing expanding a state law that prohibits state inmates from profiting from books they write about their crimes.

He wants the Legislature to prohibit them from profiting when their notoriety is used to sell anything, including Trawick’s sexually graphic art.

“There would be no market for Jack Trawick’s pictures if it wasn’t who he is,” King said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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