A gang is defined as an ongoing group, organization, or association of three or more individuals that have a common name or common identifying symbol or sign, whose members—individually or collectively—engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity. A gang member is any person who actively and knowingly participates in any gang and promotes, furthers, or assists in any felonious criminal activity by their respective gang members.
In California, the gang enhancement law—the California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act (STEP Act)—prohibits and punishes street gang activities. The STEP Act includes two main provisions, including a sentencing enhancement for certain crimes often associated with gang activity.
The following are the two provisions of the STEP Act:
- Gang participation – The law criminalizes any gang member actively participating in a criminal gang and assisting another member in the commission of a felony. Active participation in a criminal gang could result in a maximum prison sentence of three years.
- Sentencing enhancement – The law states that anyone convicted of a felony in relation to gang activity must serve mandatory prison time, in addition to any penalty imposed for the “underlying” original criminal offense. This could mean at least two years in prison or, in some cases, a longer prison term.
In order to convict someone for active gang participation under state law, the prosecution must prove that the defendant was an active gang member, he/she knew that gang members were engaged in a “pattern” of criminal activity, and he/she intentionally furthered, assisted, or promoted the gang members' felonious criminal conduct. To prove the latter, the defendant must have committed a felony or that the defendant aided and abetted a felony.
Unfortunately, many who have never belonged to a gang—or who have casual acquaintance with a gang member—are improperly charged with gang-related crimes. If you are charged with a gang crime, it is imperative to get help from an experienced criminal defense attorney to avoid facing harsh prison sentences.