Gang Crime Defense Attorneys in San Diego
Being accused of a gang-related crime is serious. While there are many federal laws pertaining to gangs, California has created its own laws on gang violence and other crimes, such as burglary and robbery. When someone is charged with a gang crime in San Diego, he or she is most often charged with the original crime, such as assault or murder, and given an extended sentence as a gang enhancement.
Anyone charged with a gang crime in California needs to speak with a competent San Diego gang crime defense attorney right away. Our team at jD Law Criminal Defense Attorneys is led by James N. Dicks, a former LAPD investigator and board-certified criminal law specialist. We will go to work to beat the charges and get you the best possible outcome. Time is of the essence, so call (760) 630-2000 now for a free consultation.
California state law has several types of enhancement that can lengthen a defendant’s sentence. But just because an arresting officer or prosecutor suspects a defendant is a member of the gang, it does not mean an enhancement is automatic. First, the prosecution must prove that you committed the original crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Second, they will need to show that this crime was committed in accordance with gang activity. Simply living near a gang or being friends with or related to a gang member is not enough to land a conviction. The prosecution must show how the crime is connected to gang activity and, without that key detail, the enhancement would not apply.
In California, gang crimes are covered under a portion of the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act (STEP), section 186.22 of the Penal Code.
Section 186.22(a) states that it is a crime to be a participant in a gang. This section also makes it illegal to help gang members commit any felony. This charge is often filed alongside another crime that you allegedly committed. Participation in a gang is a wobbler in California, meaning you can face either misdemeanor or felony penalties if convicted.
Misdemeanor charges can include:
- A maximum of one year in a county jail
- A fine of up to $1,000
In contrast, felony charges can result in:
- Up to 16 months, two years, or three years in a state prison
- A fine of up to $10,000
- Formal probation
- The inability to purchase or own a firearm
Section 186.22(b) states that sentencing can be enhanced upon conviction if it was found that a person committed a felony for the benefit of a gang. Like participation in a gang, this charge is filed on top of the original crime, meaning your sentence can be lengthened. Section 186.22(b) is a felony charge, meaning you can face:
- Up to two, three, or four years in a state prison for “generic felonies”
- Up to five years in a state prison for “serious felonies”
- Up to 10 years in a state prison for “violent felonies”
- Up to seven or 10 years in a state prison for “specific felonies”
In addition, under Penal Code 186.22(d) PC, if you are convicted of committing a misdemeanor crime for the benefit of a gang, it could be enhanced to a felony and result in two, three, or four years in a state prison.
In order for a gang enhancement to apply in your case, the prosecution must demonstrate three elements:
- You were an active participant in gang activity;
- You were aware that the gang committed criminal acts; and
- You assisted in felony crimes committed by the gang or committed felony crimes on behalf of the gang.
Under these rules, the courts cannot convict former gang members solely on their history with a gang. Unfortunately, many people do not see it that way, and former gang members are constantly suspected of criminal activity even when their lives have drastically changed. The prosecution may link your actions to a gang by pointing out shared symbols, similar clothing styles, hand gestures (“gang signs”), and even what neighborhood you live in.
In addition, if you have been charged with previous gang crimes, they may try to use your criminal record to support a conviction. However, these laws have very specific language for a reason, and your San Diego defense attorney may be able to dismantle or discredit the prosecution’s arguments.
While any crime can be considered a "gang crime," some are more commonly charged than others, such as:
- Drug crimes
- Sexual assault or rape
- Auto theft
- Weapons offenses
- Drive-by and walk-by shootings
- Shooting at a dwelling known to be inhabited
Just as there are two parts to gang-related charges, the original crime and the gang component, there are two parts to a defense: defending the original crime, which can include a defense of mistaken identity or self-defense; and proving the crime was not gang-related.
For the first part of your case, your attorney can utilize a variety of defenses to have the charge reduced or dismissed. This will vary depending on the specific crime and evidence in your case, but our lead attorney James N. Dicks at jD Law Criminal Defense Attorneys can work to discredit witness testimony, demonstrate that the police committed misconduct, argue that forensic testing was mishandled or improperly administered, or that it is a case of mistaken identity.
With regard to the gang enhancement, your defense will be based around proving that you are not an active participant in the gang or that the original crime was not gang-related. This can be done by showing that you are not personally or actively involved in the gang or that you were not aware that criminal activity had taken place. If your lawyer can weaken the connection between your actions and the gang’s criminal activity, you may only be charged for the initial crime and should not be punished with an enhancement.
In all criminal cases, the burden of proof is on the prosecution. Not only will the prosecution have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime, but they will also have to prove you were working on behalf of, or to the benefit of, a gang. An experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney can dismantle this argument, working to prove you had no known ties to the gang and did not act on its behalf.
If you have been charged with a gang crime, it may seem hopeless, but it is not. Our criminal defense lawyers will be able to provide the strong defense you need. Our founding attorney is a former police investigator, and we know how to research and present these cases to their best effect.
These charges can be difficult to fight, and you should not try to do it on your own. To give yourself the best possible chance of a successful outcome in court, contact jD Law Criminal Defense Attorneys at (760) 630-2000. Your consultation is free, and the sooner you call us, the better our chances of helping you.
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