After the increase in criminal gang activity in California during the 1980’s, the legislature decided to come up with new criminal gang activity statutes that would punish this type of activity more severely than non-gang related criminal activity. The problem is, prosecutors routinely charge a crime as “gang related” when it isn’t, and trying to convince a conservative Orange County jury otherwise is an uphill battle.
Gang Unit prosecutors have the choice of alleging a substantive gang crime pursuant to Penal Code 186.22(a) [Active Participation in a Criminal Street Gang] , and/or a gang enhancement added to a substantive charge pursuant to Penal Code section 186.22(b [felony committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with any criminal street gang]. Most of the time, prosecutors allege both code sections, which are each listed as strike offenses under California’s 3 strikes law. [Penal Code section 1192.7(c)(28)]. Any Orange County criminal defense attorney who handles gang cases knows that prosecutors often allege the gang crimes just to get the increased punishment and/or to justify the special funding the prosecuting offices receive for prosecuting these types of cases.
Fighting Gang Charges
If you or a loved one is being charged with a gang related crime, the first and most important thing you can do is hire an experienced Orange County criminal attorney who routinely handles gang cases. The attorney will be able to assess whether or not the alleged criminal activity is really gang related or not. One of the aspects of the case the attorney will look at is the “gang background” that the prosecutor has concerning the defendant. Many times, there is absolutely no evidence that the person being charged has been associating with gang members or actively involved in a gang. This type of evidence usually consists of S.T.E.P. Act notices or Field Identification cards police officers fill out when they come into contact with a person they suspect is hanging out with gang members.
The S.T.E.P. notice is a form that notifies an individual that a particular group is a criminal street gang and that the gang engages in a pattern of criminal activity. The Field Identification card (FI card) includes a gang member’s name, moniker, physical description, address, phone numbers (home, work, and cellular), scars, marks or tattoos, vehicles, and associate members with whom the individual has been or was hanging out with at the time he was contacted by the police officer. The information from the FI cards is then entered into a local database that the police can pull up in the future if the person is ever arrested.
If a person is clearly not a gang member and doesn’t associate with gang members, fighting the gang charges is crucial given the consequences of pleading guilty. Anyone who is convicted of a gang crime is placed on “gang terms”, which is an invitation for future harassment by the police. Recently, there was a sweep in Orange County directed at individuals on probation “gang terms” – Probation Sweep Targets Gangs. Of course criminal activity that is truly gang related should be prosecuted. However, specifically harassing individuals on “gang terms” probation when they are minding their own business and staying out of trouble, or filing gang charges against individuals who are not involved in gang related criminal activity is unjust.
There are also other situations where the person charged used to be a gang member, but hasn’t been active in years. When a person who falls into this category picks up a new offense and it is charged as a gang related offense, the person may want to fight it given the amount of prison time they are facing due to the enhanced penalties for gang related crimes.
For more information on fighting gang charges in Orange County, California, contact the Kenney Legal Defense Corporation at (855) 505-5588 or visit the firm’s website.