2024 Legislative Update: Changes to Georgia’s Criminal Code

Georgia’s legislative term recently ended on March 28, 2024, after which Governor Kemp signed several bills into law amending the criminal code, creating new substantive offenses, and changing how certain crimes are prosecuted. Below is a summary of some of the most notable changes going into effect this year:

House Bill 993

HB 993 addresses sex trafficking offenses through two significant changes to the law. First, the bill removes a potential defense in child pornography cases. Going forward, defendants in child pornography prosecutions will no longer be able to claim that the images or videos at issue in the case were merely doctored or altered to appear as though they included minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct, as opposed to actually including minors engaging in such conduct, as a defense.

Second, HB 993 criminalizes “grooming,” the act of communicating with a minor with the intent to establish a sexual relationship with them or induce them into performing sexual acts. Under the new law, a defendant must be an adult over 18 and more than four years older than the minor they are attempting to groom. Grooming will now be a felony punishable by one to five years in prison.

House Bill 500

HB 500 creates a new substantive offense in cases involving arson and explosives. In the wake of protests surrounding “Cop City,” O.C.G.A. § 16-7-60.1 creates a new criminal charge for arson involving a law enforcement vehicle. The crime is a felony, punishable by a fine of up to $100,000.00, imprisonment for not less than five years nor more than 20 years, or both. Setting a vehicle on fire is already an arson offense punishable by a $50,000.00 fine and one to 20 years in prison, but HB 500 adds a new hefty penalty for damage to a police vehicle.

House Bill 1201

HB 1201 provides some relief for victims of trafficking forced to commit crimes while they are being trafficked. The bill allows a victim of trafficking who has been convicted and sentenced of a crime pursuant to Code Section 42-8-60 or 16-13-2 to ask the court to vacate their conviction. It also allows the court to restrict access to the record of the conviction.

Senate Bill 421

Aimed at cases involving drive-by-shootings, SB 421 expands the definition of aggravated assault by adding language to include drive-by-shootings at people, vehicles, or dwellings. The bill also tacks on causing damage to property during a drive-by to the code section addressing criminal damage to property in the first degree. Conviction of a drive-by-shooting offense is punishable by five to 20 years imprisonment. 

Separately, the bill increases the penalties for making an unlawful request for emergency services, especially when said false requests are made in connection with critical infrastructure (any building, place of assembly, or facility that is located in this state and necessary for national or public security, education, or public safety), a dwelling, or a place of worship, or when serious bodily harm or death results from emergency response.

Senate Bill 493

Under current law, registered sex offenders are prohibited from intentionally taking a photo of a minor without their parent’s permission, and doing so constitutes an aggravated misdemeanor. SB 493 increases the punishment for subsequent offenses, making any subsequent offense a felony punishable by one to 30 years imprisonment and a fine between $5,000.00 and $100,000.00.

The bill will also prohibit registered sex offenders from owning or operating drones or other unmanned aircrafts if they intend to use them to follow, photograph, observe, or contact any person without their consent.

House Bill 218

HB 218 allows for the admission of out-of-court hearsay statements made by a mentally incapacitated individual in cases involving sexual abuse. If a statement made by a mentally incapacitated individual over the age of 17 concerns a non-consensual sex act performed on or in the presence of that individual, hearsay testimony is allowed provided: 1) the adverse side is provided pretrial notice of the testimony, 2) the mentally incapacitated person will testify unless the adverse party waives their testimony, and 3) the testimony of the person to whom the statement was made is open to cross-examination.

House Bill 827

HB 827 outlines criminal trespass involving a wild animal, aimed primarily at preventing people from illegally entering enclosures where wild animals are kept and harming or killing them. The bill also increases the possible penalties for livestock theft to a range of two to 15 years imprisonment and a fine of $10,000.

House Bill 1326

HB 1326 adds several drugs to the list of Schedule I controlled substances, which are defined as substances with no recognized medical use and a high potential for abuse. Designer drugs clonazolam (street names Clon, Clam, and C-lam), diclazepam, etizolam, flualprazolam (street names Flualp and Hulk) and flubromazolam (A.K.A. liquid Xanex) are all closely related synthetic benzodiazepines or benzos. The bill also adds Cumyl-pegaclone, a synthetic cannabinoid, to the list.

Senate Bill 10

SB 10 criminalizes organizing and participating in drag racing. Under the new law, helping to organize or display a drag race is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $250.00. The bill also increases the fines associated with conviction for drag racing and allows for vehicle forfeiture upon multiple convictions. Additionally, the bill clarifies that anyone attempting to get a class C or D license must not have been convicted of reckless stunt driving within 12 months of their application.

Senate Bill 332

The Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission (PAQC) was established in May 2023 to be an oversight mechanism for district attorneys and solicitors-general with the power to discipline or remove them. A new bill, SB 332, allows the PAQC to issue standards of conduct without the review of the Supreme Court, which was previously required.

Senate Bill 517

SB 517 is meant to provide immunity from criminal or civil liability to law enforcement officers and others who use justified or otherwise legal force. The bill further specifies that a police officer using legal force has no duty to retreat from using said force.


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