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What California Law Says About Gang Crimes

Organized crime has existed for years, and legislators throughout the nation have passed numerous laws to directly address the threat criminal organizations pose to the public and enable law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to more easily arrest and charge individuals involved in these organizations. The federal government also enforces laws intended to charge and convict gang members.

Aside from federal laws targeting organized crime, the state of California also enforces laws that directly address gang crimes and gang members. If you or someone you love has been charged with crime in connection to alleged gang involvement, it is of critical important that you work with a criminal defense attorney capable of defending against the elevated penalties at stake. At The Law Offices of Jacqueline Goodman, our Orange County criminal defense lawyer is prepared to help you learn more about any charges or enhancements you or your loved one is facing during a free and confidential case evaluation.

Gang Crime Laws in California

California uses the state's "STEP Act," or Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act, when criminal cases involve defendants with ties to street gangs. Under PC 186.22, which is part of the STEP Act, California makes it a crime simply to participate in a gang. The penal code section also enforces a sentencing enhancement for defendants who commit felony crimes in connection to gang activity. The two parts of PC 186.22 are as follows:

  • PC 186.22(a) - Under California law, it is a crime to be a participant in a street gang and to assist gang members in any felony criminal conduct. Depending on the circumstances involved, you may be charged with a misdemeanor that poses a 1-year jail sentence, or a felony that poses terms of imprisonment in a state prison for 16 months, 24 months, or 3 years.
  • PC 186.22(b) - California's gang sentencing enhancement subjects defendant's to additional mandatory terms of imprisonment for committing a felony that benefits a street gang. This enhancement is in addition to any penalties for the felony crime that was committed. The sentence for the gang enhancement, which can range between 2 to 15 years or up to 25 to life, will run consecutively to the sentence for the underlying felony.

PC 186.22 enforces very tough penalties for gang members and for any individual who acts for the benefit of a gang, even if they are not a gang member themselves. These penalties can also be considerably enhanced if a defendant has a criminal history or prior convictions for street terrorism. It is important to remember that PC 186.22 is commonly charged in addition to other felony crimes, which can raise the stakes in a criminal case and subject defendants to even more time behind bars.

Because the gang sentencing enhancement requires proof that a person has gang ties, there is ample opportunity to effectively argue against the enhancement and have it dropped. This can include proving that someone is not an active participant of a gang or did not act for the benefit of a gang, among other defense strategies. Any case involving the gang sentencing enhancement should be treated as seriously as possible.

There are a number of legal elements the prosecution is required to prove, and by working with an experienced lawyer, you can effectively challenge any and all of their arguments. It is the government's responsibility to prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt, and is your right to challenge the government's version of the facts. You can do this by choosing proven legal representation with a reputation for effective defense strategies and for fighting aggressively on behalf of clients.

Attorney Jacqueline Goodman has just this reputation. As an Orange County criminal defense attorney with over 20 years of experience focusing solely on criminal defense, Ms. Goodman understands California's gang crime laws and how to effectively fight for clients charged with serious crimes. If you would like to discuss your case during a free consultation, contact us today.

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