According to the California Statute (Penal Code 186.22 PC), active participation in a criminal street gang is a serious crime. This particular section criminalizes gang activity and also assistance in any felony criminal activity by the gang members.
Definition of ‘Participation in a Street Gang” under California Law
Penal Code 186.22(a) PC defines the crime of “participation in a street gang” under the STEP act of California Law. A California prosecutor must establish the following three facts (also referred to as “elements of the crime”) in order to convict someone of the crime of “participation in a street gang”.
- You “actively took part” in a criminal street gang.
- You had knowledge about the gang members’ engagement in a pattern of criminal gang activity, and
- You voluntarily assisted, promoted or furthered felonious criminal activities by gang members.
To help you get better understanding of what it means by participation in a gang as defined under Penal Code 186.22(a) PC, we will elaborate on some of the terms.
California’s gang enhancement law elucidates that if you took part in gang activities in a way that cannot be in name only, or merely passive, you will be considered to have “actively participated” in those activities. Under the law, you will be considered to have been an active participant of the gang even if:
- You were not a leader of the gang
- You did not have any active membership in the gang
- You were not associated with the gang full time or even for a substantial amount of your available time.
“Criminal street gang”
The law defines a “criminal street gang” as any group or organization of three or more people, which
- is known by a common name or an identifying symbol or sign
- has committed a crime that finds a mention on the long list of California criminal offenses as one of its primary activities
- whose members are engaged in a “pattern of criminal gang activity” either together or alone.
Under California’s gang sentencing enhancement law, it is extremely complicated to define “a pattern of criminal gang activity”. However, in a layman’s term, it simply means:
- Committing two or more crimes from a particular list
- By two or more people or on two or more separate occasions
- Within a gap of three years between two consecutive crimes, and
- With commission of at least one crime after September, 1988.
Though it may sound odd but the prosecution has to establish that these offenses were related to gang.
The list of criminal offenses to prove a “pattern of criminal gang activity” and a group is a “criminal street gang” is pretty long. The list includes common offenses including:
- Drive-by shootings
- Assault with a lethal weapon
- Vandalism but only when it can be charged as a felony
- Multiple drug offenses that include sale and transportation, possession for sale and drug manufacturing
Gang sentencing law is truly very complicated and one needs to devote a lion’s share of his/her time to learn and understand the nuances of these laws.