At the state level, gang activity is criminalized through California Penal Code 186.22, or the California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act (STEP), it is illegal to participate in a street gang and assist in any felony criminal conduct by the gang’s members. Violations of this statute could lead to 1 year in county jail or up to 3 years in state prison. California Penal Code 186-186.8, or the California Control of Profits of Organized Crime Act, also criminalizes gang members who commit 2 or more felonies for the purposes of financial gain or profit. The consequences of doing so are the forfeiture of the illegally gained profits, as well as possible jail time.
Note that the STEP Act also introduces a street gang sentencing enhancement where any individual convicted of a California crime related to gang activity will receive a sentencing enhancement of an additional 2, 15, or even 25 years to life if the following are shown:
- the defendant committed or attempted to commit the crime for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal street gang; and
- while they committed the crime, the defendant intended to assist, further, or promote criminal conduct by the gang members.
The prosecutor must also prove all the elements of the underlying crime for which the defendant is being charged, aside from their gang involvement. Note that the defendant does not need to be an active participant in the gang at the time of the offense in order to be charged under this law.
At Thompson • Garcia Law, we are passionate about fighting for our clients’ constitutional rights, especially when they are facing unfairly harsh criminal accusations against them. As confident trial attorneys representing California, we are deeply knowledgeable about the state’s criminal justice system, informed by over 65 years of professional experience. Gang-related crimes can be prosecuted at both the state and the federal level, so you will need a seasoned trial attorney to defend your side in a potentially tough courtroom.
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Federal Gang Involvement Laws
Gang-related laws also exist at the federal level under a variety of statutes. The federal Criminal Street Gangs statute, 18 USC 521, establishes that an individual is guilty of participating in a criminal street gang if they are a member of a group of 5 or more people, and the group commits acts in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) or the Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering Act (VICAR).
RICO prohibits individuals from committing, or conspiring to commit, 2 or more crimes of a specific type (e.g., embezzlement, drug trafficking, kidnapping, arson) to further the activities of the gang. The penalties for violation RICO could include up to 20 years or, in severe cases, life in prison, as well as forfeiture of any illegally gained profits and a fine of up to $250,000.
VICAR criminalizes individuals who commit violent crimes in order to gain admission into or to advance their position in a criminal enterprise or street gang. The consequences of violating VICAR can be up to $250,000 in fines and up to 30 years in prison or, for crimes of murder, life imprisonment.
The Continuing Criminal Enterprise statute (CCE) further penalizes individuals who lead a drug enterprise or kill someone while engaging in or avoiding arrest for certain drug crimes. Note that this law only covers major narcotics organizations. Penalties for violating CCE include at least 20 years to life in prison, as well as the forfeiture of profits and up to $4,000,000 in fines for individuals or $10,000,000 for organizations. Be aware that the penalties imposed by RICO, VICAR and CCR are in addition to each other as well as to the penalties issued for the underlying crimes.
Additionally, individuals charged under the federal Criminal Street Gangs statute could face a gang sentencing enhancement of up to 10 years in addition to their underlying sentencing if they:
- participate in a criminal street gang with knowledge that its members engage in or have engaged in a continuing series of serious offenses;
- intend to promote or further the felonious activities of the criminal street gang or maintain or increase their position in the gang; and
- have been convicted within the past 5 years of a serious state or federal crime.
Protecting Your Rights in Pleasanton, Fremont, Oakland & Surrounding Areas
Clearly, both the state and federal government strictly penalize gang-related activity. The penalties could be hundreds of thousands in fines and a lifetime in prison. As a result, you do not want to be roped into an accusation you were not guilty of committing. Unfortunately, even the smallest presence in a gang could result in the worst penalties for participation, even if you are not an “active” member, if a member at all.
Our trial attorneys at Thompson • Garcia Law can champion your defense against gang accusations, such as arguing that you were not a member of the gang or that you did not know the gang you were in committed a continuing series of felonies. It is also possible to combat a federal charge by claiming that the activities of the gang did not threaten interstate or foreign commerce. In any case, consult our attorneys at Thompson • Garcia Law today to discuss your best defense strategy for your situation in Dublin, California.
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