Penal Code Section 186.22(a) makes it a crime for a person to actively participate in any criminal street gang with knowledge that its members engage or have engaged in a pattern of criminal activity, and to willfully promote, further, or assist in any felonious conduct by members of that gang. This charge may be filed as a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of a year in county jail or as a felony punishable by a maximum of 3 years in state prison. It is rare for this crime to be charged as a misdemeanor.
Penal Code Section 186.22(b) is a sentencing enhancement section that provides for increased punishment if a person commits a felony for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with any criminal street gang, with the specific intent to promote, further, or assist in any criminal conduct by gang members. The possible increase in the sentence under this enhancement is between 2 years to life in state prison depending on the felony committed.
For example, a person charged with felony vandalism (such as tagging that causes more than $400 in damage) may also be charged with Penal Code Section 186.22(a) if the prosecutor believes that the person is also an active gang member. That person also may be charged with Penal Code Section 186.22(b) if the prosecutor believes that the vandalism was committed for the benefit of the gang. This enhancement will increase the possible punishment by a maximum of 4 years in state prison.
In another example, a person charged with a carjacking may also be charged with the above two sections if the prosecution believes that the person was an active gang member and that the carjacking was committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal street gang. The potential sentence for this person is life in state prison.
Both Penal Code Sections 186.22(a) and 186.22(b) are strikes under the California Three Strikes Law.
A person charged with a misdemeanor offense, such as simple assault, may also be charged with a gang enhancement under Penal Code Section 186.22(d) if the prosecution believes that the offense was committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal street gang. A person convicted under this section has a mandatory minimum sentence of 6 months and a maximum sentence of 3 years in state prison.
In order to prove a gang case, a “gang expert” is called to testify on behalf of the prosecution in almost all cases. These “experts” are usually investigators from the local police department who are assigned to the gang unit. They will testify to their opinion that a certain person is a gang member based on that person’s prior contacts with law enforcement which are usually documented in police reports and Field Identification Cards. These “gang experts” are crucial to the prosecution’s case because in most cases, the expert’s testimony is the only way to prove that a person is a gang member or that a certain crime was committed for the benefit of the gang.
At the Law Offices of Christian Kim, our attorney has successfully handled numerous gang cases during his career. He has the necessary trial experience to effectively challenge not only the “gang expert” but the prosecution’s other evidence. Being a former deputy district attorney who has worked closely with gang investigators and “experts”, he can recognize the weaknesses in a prosecution’s case and use it to his client’s advantage.
If you have been charged with a gang crime, contact us and arrange a free initial consultation with our attorney so that he can provide you with an honest assessment of your case.