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San Diego Gang Crimes Defense Lawyer

California is one of many states that penalize certain crimes more harshly if prosecutors can show that the defendant has ties to a street gang. If you are facing sentencing enhancements under California’s street gang enforcement law, Mary Frances Prévost is an aggressive San Diego gang crimes defense lawyer who will fight to protect your rights and prove your innocence. For a free and confidential consultation about your gang crimes case, call (888) 909-7896 today.

Gang Sentencing Enhancements under California Law

In California, gang sentencing enhancement laws allow judges to impose longer and stricter prison sentences for crimes committed by gang members. Gang sentencing enhancement laws were put into place by the California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act, also known as the “STEP” Act, which was signed into law in 1988.

The California street gang sentencing enforcement laws can be found in two sections of the California Penal Code. These are:

  • California Penal Code § 186.22(a), which makes it a crime to participate in a street gang and assist in any felony criminal conduct by the gang’s members; and
  • California Penal Code § 186.22(b), which provides that anyone who commits a felony for the benefit of a gang will receive a mandatory prison sentence in addition and consecutive to the penalty he or she receives for the underlying felony.

The California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act makes it a crime to be an active member of a criminal gang. However, the sentencing enhancement provision requires that you be convicted of an underlying felony. If you are convicted, the prosecutor will request that the judge add more time to your sentence. The prosecutor will be required to prove that the gang enhancement is warranted.

Penalties for Participation in a Gang under California Law

If you are convicted of violating California Penal Code § 186.22(a), you can be sentenced to:

  • Up to one year in county jail, or
  • Up to 16 months in California state prison, or
  • Between two to three years in California state prison.

Elements of Participation in a Street Gang

In order to prove that you committed the offense of “participation in a street gang,” a California prosecutor must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • You “actively participated” in a criminal street gang;
  • You knew the street gang’s members engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity; and
  • You willfully assisted, furthered, or promoted felonious criminal conduct by gang members.

In California, you are considered to have “actively participated” in street gang activities so long as you participated in a way that was not merely passive, or in name only. It is important to understand that you can be considered an “active participant” in a gang even if you weren’t a gang leader or you didn’t devote a substantial part of your time to the gang.

A “criminal street gang” is any organization or group of three or more people that:

  • Has a common name (such as “Bloods” or “Crips”) or an identifying sign or symbol;
  • Has, as one of its primary activities, the commission of a California criminal offense set forth in the STEP Act; and
  • Whose members have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity either alone or together.

There are many different criminal offenses that can establish a “pattern of criminal gang activity.” These include, but are not limited to, common offenses such as:

  • Robbery,
  • Drug offenses,
  • Drive-by shootings,
  • Felony vandalism,
  • Assault with a deadly weapon, and
  • Murder.

Gang Sentencing Enhancements under California Law

California Penal Code § 186.22(b) outlines the sentencing enhancements for anyone who commits a felony for the benefit of a gang. It is important to understand that any additional sentence imposed under this section of the California Penal Code is in addition and consecutive to the sentence imposed for the underlying felony offense.

Depending on the circumstances under which the underlying felony offense were committed, you could be sentenced to an additional two to 15 years, or even 25 years to life, in California state prison. This could be true even if you are not the person who was directly responsible for the underlying felony offense.

If you are convicted of a gang-related felony, you could also receive a “strike” under California’s three-strikes law.

Defenses to Participation in a Street Gang and Sentencing Enhancements

There are many legal defenses to available to those who have been charged under the STEP Act. The information in this section is not a substitute for legal advice. Only an experienced gang crimes defense lawyer can tell you which defenses to participation in a street gang, or to the STEP Act sentencing enhancements, are available to you in your case.

One approach is to fight the underlying felony charge. If you can prove that you did not commit the underlying felony, you can not be sentenced to an enhanced criminal street gang sentence under the STEP Act. Another approach is to prove that you were not an “active participant” in a gang. You can also argue that you were not acting “for the benefit of a gang.”

In some cases, the California prosecutor might be trying to impose gang sentencing enhancements under the STEP Act illegally. These types of cases are very complex, and prosecutors have filed inappropriate and even illegal charges against defendants in the past.

Federal Gang Crimes

In addition to being charged under the STEP Act in California state court, you can be charged with federal offenses that make it a felony to participate in a criminal “enterprise.” There are three federal statutes that apply to gang crimes:

Typically, federal prosecutors target large, highly organized gangs that cover a wide geographical area with these statutes. However, you could be facing federal gang crimes charges as a result of gang activity that you were involved in that took place in the state of California.

San Diego Gang Crimes Defense Lawyer

Mary Frances Prévost represents criminal defendants facing gang crimes charges in California state and federal courts. If you have been charged with participation in a street gang, or are concerned about sentencing enhancements under the STEP Act, call the Law Office of Mary Frances Prévost to discuss your case.

Mary Frances Prévost is an aggressive gang crimes defense lawyer who represents clients in San Diego and the surrounding areas. Call (888) 909-7896 for a free and confidential consultation today.

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