At the Law Offices of Jerod Gunsberg, we have years of experience defending crimes that include a gang enhancement. We know that a gang enhancement charge impacts every aspect of defense of a crime from plea bargaining, to evidence presented in court, to sentencing. We also know that in a significant percentage of cases, the gang enhancement allegation is not based on fact, either because the person charged was not a member of a gang or because the alleged crime was not committed with a specific intent to aid the gang.
What is a Gang Enhancement?
In response to the perception that gangs were an increasing problem, especially in Los Angeles County, the California legislature passed a law, Section 186.22 of the Penal Code, which increased the sentences for crimes that are committed in connection with gang activity. Specifically, Section 186.22 includes a sliding scale depending on the nature of the crime. At the low end of the scale, the gang enhancement adds a prison sentence of one year. For more serious crimes, the gang enhancement adds a prison sentence of 2, 3, 4, 5, or ten years. For the most serious crimes, the gang enhancement can be up a life sentence. In addition, when prosecutors charge a crime along with the gang enhancement, a conviction for that crime will count as a strike under California’s three strikes law. Thus, the gang enhancement raises the stakes for any crime to which it is attached. It is therefore critical that anyone who has been charged with a crime that includes a gang enhancement work with a lawyer who is experienced in defending gang enhancement cases.
Defending Gang Enhancement Cases
Section 186.22 was passed to punish crimes that were committed to benefit an illegal gang. A typical example is when a person who is a member of a gang kills someone to retaliate against another gang that is believed to have committed some crime against a fellow gang member. Unfortunately, prosecutors routinely file gang enhancement charges in a wide variety of cases where there is no connection to a gang, or where the connection is much less clear. In my experience, gang enhancement charges are filed inappropriately in a substantial percentage of cases.
Defending a gang enhancement case therefore involves challenging the evidence that the prosecutors rely on to prove every element of the crime that is listed in Section 186.22. The most common issues that come up in a Gang Enhancement case are as follows:
- Was the crime committed “for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with any criminal street gang?” The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime has a direct connection to a gang. Too often, police and prosecutors assume that someone who lives in a particular area or looks like they belong to a gang is, in fact, a member of the gang.
- Was the crime committed “with the specific intent to promote, further, or assist in any criminal conduct by gang members?” It is not enough for the prosecution to show that there is a connection between the crime and a gang. The prosecution must also show that the crime was committed with the intent to promote or assist the gang. For example, if someone is charged with possessing cocaine or some other drug, and at the time of the arrest, they were in the presence of known gang members, the prosecutors need to show that the person possessed the drug in order to help or promote a gang. Prosecutors try to get around this requirement by introducing evidence of all the bad things that the gang has done, even if those acts were committed by someone other than the person who was charged with the crime that is being prosecuted. Too often, this kind of evidence causes jurors to conclude that the defendant is dangerous even if there isn’t specific evidence of an intent to benefit the gang. An important part of defending drug enhancement cases therefore involves challenging and limiting the kind of evidence prosecutors try to introduce about gang activity.
Why an Experienced Gang Enhancement Defense Lawyer Can Help
When prosecutors file gang enhancement charges, they impact every aspect of a criminal case. They know that it puts pressure on defendants at the plea bargaining stage to plead guilty to charges that they would otherwise challenge at trial. During the trial, the gang enhancement charge tends to increase the range of evidence prosecutors can introduce, including evidence of bad things gang members have done (even if those gang members are people other than the defendant). Defending a gang enhancement case involves issues that are not raised in the typical criminal case. Most attorneys including many criminal defense attorneys have not defended gang enhancement cases. Given that gang enhancement charges can increase someone’s prison sentence by ten years or more, it is critical that you are represented by an attorney who knows how Los Angeles prosecutors handle gang enhancement cases.
Criminal defense lawyer Jerod Gunsberg will aggressively defend any case in Los Angeles or in any California court that involves gang enhancement charges. Call Mr. Gunsberg at (323) 633-3423 for a free and confidential consultation or get in touch via the secure contact form on this page. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.