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LOS ANGELES GANG CRIMES LAWYER

The first court appearance I ever made (while working for the Alternate Public Defender in San Diego) was a bail review hearing for a 19 year old client arrested for selling marijuana.  At my client's arraignment, bail was set at $300,000 because of a tattoo he had on his forearm.  The judge and prosecutor at his arraignment decided that his "M.O.B." tattoo meant "member of bloods" and decided to make his bail insanely high. 

My client assured me that his "M.O.B." stood for nothing more than "mind over body" and my lifelong obsession with hip-hop reminded me of yet another meaning: "money over bitches."  After pouring through my client's police reports, I found a promising tidbit of information: my client was booked wearing a BLUE hat.  Why judge, would a member of the Bloods have been wearing a blue hat?  At bail review, I argued that no member of the Bloods would wear a blue hat and that "M.O.B." can mean "mind over body" or "money over bitches."  After a roar of laughter from the audience in this felony courtroom, my non-gangmember client was released on his own recognizance.  Bail went from hundreds of thousands of dollars to ZERO.  What a great outcome for my first time in the courtroom.  But I still could not understand why being in a gang made selling marijuana at a park more serious than rape or armed robbery.

California is the birthplace of modern street gangs and LA has often been called the gang capital of the nation.  With a long history of gang wars and violence, the California legislature developed very strict laws regarding gang membership.  Mainstream society is terrified of the bandanas and face tattoos and the government sees these organizations as undermining their sovereignty.  As a result, gang membership not only affects bail like in the case above, but is a crime in and of itself and can lead to substantially enhanced penalties.

Legally, a criminal street gang is defined as a group of people who claim a geographic area, name or sign and together participate in criminal behavior.  If you have been charged with any of the following gang-related offenses, you need a criminal defense attorney to represent you:

PARTICIPATION IN A GANG
PC 186.22(a) makes it a crime to participate in a criminal street gang and to assist in any gang member's felony conduct.  So in addition to being charged with the principal offense, a suspected gang member will get a PC 186.22(a) charge added as well.

GANG SENTENCING ENHANCEMENT
Pursuant to PC 186.22(b), committing a felony for the benefit of a gang is subject to a separate and consecutive mandatory prison term.  Prosecutors allege a gang enhancement when they believe that the defendant is the member of a gang and acted for the benefit of the gang.  This enhancement is two to five years for nonviolent felonies and 10 years for violent felonies.  Carjacking, drive-by shootings and home invasion robberies are subject to a 15 year gang enhancement.  For example, if someone is arrested for selling marijuana, they would likely avoid jail time altogether and almost certainly avoid state prison.  With the gang enhancement, however, the alleged gang member would have to serve at least two years consecutive to a prison sentence on the same crime.  The "for the benefit of a gang" requirement has been read broadly enough to account for virtually any felony.  Violent felonies, even if only personally motivated, are deemed to further a gang's goal of fear and intimidation.  Vandalism will typically be assumed to represent some form of gang meaning.  Crimes that bring the defendant money will be assumed to be money for the gang as a whole.  I have seen the gang enhancement applied to drug sales, pimping and theft. 

Moreover, prosecutors may turn any misdemeanor into a felony if the misdemeanor is committed for the benefit of the gang pursuant to PC 186.22(d).  This turns probation cases into state prison cases.  (note: "probation" can include county jail time of up to one year, but not state prison time).

These laws never sat well with me; nor do they sit well with the First Amendment's guarantee to freedom of association.  And if you ask me, there is no more ominous gang than the Fraternal Order of Police.  They band together to instill fear and terror in the citizens they are sworn to protect and will beat and otherwise brutalize anyone who interferes with even their illegitimate goals. 

If you or someone you know is charged with a gang crime or sentencing enhancement, there are some defenses available:
  1. The defendant is not a member or not an active member of the criminal street gang.  Racial and cultural profiling often lead to improper application of gang enhancements.
  2. the defendant's participation in the gang, if any, was only passive.
  3. The prosecutor is alleging the enhancement in a discriminatory way or in order to make up for having weak evidence in the underlying case (swaying the jury by convincing them that the defendant is a "bad guy" and gang member instead of proving the elements of the crime).
  4. The "gang" is not in fact a "criminal street gang."
  5. The defendant did not commit the underlying felony required for the enhancement.
  6. Alleging the gang enhancement is not in the interest of justice (consider the marijuana dealer example above).

If you have any additional questions about how California law applies to gang activity, please contact the Law Offices of Nicholas Loncar for a free consultation with a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney.

Nicholas M. Loncar, Esq.
t: 323.803.4352 | f: 323.617.3838
www.iDefendLosAngeles.com
Nicholas.Loncar@iDefendLosAngeles.com
Sunset Law Building | 1295 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA | 90026

By Nicholas Loncar

 


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