California’s Gang Enhancement Law

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As part of the California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act, Penal Code 186.22 PC is commonly known as California’s street gang enhancement law. It is designed to punish gang members and those who associate with gang members much more harshly than those who are not affiliated with a gang.

Participation in a gang

Penal Code 186.22(a) PC makes it a crime to participate in a gang, this includes participating in any street gang activity or assist in any felony criminal conduct with members of the gang. Penalties for participation in a gang can be harsh, including lengthy jail or prison sentences depending on the accused crime.

In order to be convicted for participating in a street gang under the STEP Act, a prosecutor must prove that you:

  • Actively participated in a criminal street gang
  • You knew the gang’s members engaged in criminal activity
  • You willfully assisted, furthered, or promoted felony criminal conduct by gang members

To “actively participate” in a gang you don’t have to be the leader or member of a gang, and you don’t have to devote all of your time to the gang, you are considered an active participant if you were involved in gang activities that were not passive or in name only.

A criminal street gang is defined as any organization of three or more people that has a common name or identifying sign/symbol, participates in criminal offenses, whose members have engaged in a pattern of criminal activity (either alone or as a group). These offenses included, but are not limited to:

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

Gang sentencing enhancement

According to penal code 186.22(b) PC, anyone who commits a felony for the benefit of a gang will receive a mandatory prison sentence. The prison sentence will be in addition and consecutive to any penalty received for the felony charge. Depending on the felony charge this could mean up to twenty-five years to life in prison, even if you aren’t a gang member, and even if you weren’t the most responsible person involved in committing the felony. As you can see, gang sentencing enhancements have severe penalties designed to target those active in gangs or associating with gang members.

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