What is the California Street Gang Enhancement Law?

Two Los Angeles men have been arrested in connection with a gang-related shooting at a homeless encampment in Highland Park. Reports indicate that at least one homeless man was killed and another was seriously injured in the attack. The men believed to have been involved were charged with murder and attempted murder. Police believe that the shooting was gang-related, which could aggravate the criminal penalties imposed if the men are convicted.

California’s Gang Enhancement Law

Crimes committed in connection with a street gang can have serious consequences. In 1988, California enacted the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act to protect citizens from “fear, intimidation, and physical harm caused by the activities of violent groups and individuals.” The law, which is also known as the STEP Act, makes it a crime for individuals to participate in street gang activities and/or aid in the commission of any felony criminal conduct by street gang members. When the STEP Act is violated, the state is permitted to impose harsher criminal penalties for those gang-related crimes.

Conduct Prohibited Under the STEP Act

California STEP Act prohibits a wide range of gang-related activities. Under the Act, as defined in Penal Code 186.22 PC, it is illegal to:

  1. Actively participate in any criminal street gang,
  2. With knowledge that its members engage in, or have engaged in, a pattern of criminal gang activity, and
  3. Willfully promote, further, or assist any felony criminal activity by gang members.

In order to understand when the STEP Act may apply, it is important to know what each of these elements means.

What is a Criminal Street Gang?

In California, a criminal street gang is defined to mean:

  1. Any group, organization, or association having three or more people
  2. Which engages in criminal activity as one of its primary activities
  3. With a common name or identifying symbol
  4. Whose members engage in (or have engaged in) a pattern of criminal gang activity.

In other words, a criminal street gang is a group of at least three people that regularly engage in criminal activity and has an identifying name or symbol.

What is a Pattern of Criminal Gang Activity?

Generally speaking, a pattern of criminal gang activity is engaging in multiple acts of criminal behavior in furtherance of a gang. More specifically, California law defines criminal gang activity to mean:

  1. Committing at least two crimes listed in Penal Code 186.22(e) within a three year period, and
  2. Committing these crimes on at least two separate occasions or by at least two different people.

Crimes that are listed in Penal Code 186.22(e) include:

  • Assault with a deadly weapon
  • Robbery
  • Homicide or manslaughter
  • Sale, distribution, or manufacture of controlled substances
  • Arson
  • Grand theft
  • Intimidation of witnesses
  • Rape
  • Burglary
  • Looting
  • Money laundering
  • Kidnapping
  • Carjacking
  • Mayhem, and more.

Enhancements to Criminal Sentences

When you are convicted of a gang-related crime, you will face criminal penalties for the underlying crime and your activity in connection with a gang.

Violations of 186.22(a), active participation in a street gang, is punishable by an additional:

  • One year in a Los Angeles County jail, or
  • 16 months, two years, or three years in a California state prison.

Violations of 186.22(b), assisting a gang member with the commission of a felony, is punishable by an additional:

  • Two, three, or four years in a California state prison
  • Five years in prison for committing a serious felony (defined in 1192.7 PC), or
  • Ten years in prison for committing a violent felony (defined in 667.5 PC).

Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorneys

Have you been arrested for a crime that police believe is connected to a criminal street gang? If you are convicted of the crime, you can face additional criminal penalties under California’s gang enhancement law. This could mean spending an additional one to ten years in prison. Call the Los Angeles Criminal Law Center for help fighting any criminal charges you may face.

Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys understand that your future is on the line and will fight to minimize the consequences of your arrest. Call today to request a free consultation and learn more about how we can help you protect your future.

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