The Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

Who Can Be Busted for Gang Crimes in California?

California has several criminal laws in place to combat gang violence and activities.

According to CNN, Southern California is one of the areas in the country with the largest number of gang members.

Under California laws, there are several ways for people to get busted for gang crimes, even if you aren't a gang member.

Gang Involvement Leads to Trouble

In California, anyone who actively participates in any criminal street gang when they know its members engage in a pattern of criminal gang activity can face time in jail or prison. The same goes for those who intentionally promote or assist in any felony criminal conduct by the gang members. A person doesn't have to be an actual gang member to be prosecuted under these gang laws.

A pattern of criminal gang activity means to commit, attempt to commit, or conspire to commit an enumerated list of crimes. Some of the listed crimes are:

  • Assault with deadly weapon
  • Robbery
  • Unlawful homicide or manslaughter
  • Intimidation of witnesses and victims
  • Grand theft

Even when prosecuting juveniles for gang crimes, a minor need only to actively participate in gang activity to face criminal punishment.

California's Definition of a "Gang"

The Golden State defines "criminal street gang" as any ongoing organization, association, or group of three or more persons whose primary activity is commit criminal offenses, like money laundering and drug trafficking. The organization doesn't need to be formal, but the gang must have a common name, identifying sign, or symbol. Further, the members must either individually or collectively engage in a pattern of criminal gang activity.

While the definition might seem cut and dry, its application can be hazy. For example, the musical group, the Insane Clown Posse, sued the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice for violations of free speech when the DOJ described the group as a "loosely organized hybrid gang." It's been alleged that the some of the band's fans were engaged in gang-like criminal activity. However, even a "wrongful" gang classification can result in harsher penalties for some defendants and make an entire group of people guilty by association.

For more help on California's law on gang crimes, consult a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles.

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