An Experienced Gang Crimes Attorney Can Help Fight Against Sentencing Enhancements
In the state of California, judges have the right to impose longer, stricter sentences for a crime what was committed by a member of a gang. These sentencing enhancements can add years to a person’s prison sentence and many believe them to be unfair sentencing options. If you are accused of a crime that is likely to come with a gang crimes sentencing enhancement, contact Simmons Wagner, LLP now at (949) 439-5857 for a consultation.
The Specifics of California Gang Enhancement
The first way a gang crimes charge can be used is through a gang sentencing enhancement. The judge can sentence a person to the maximum penalty allowed for a crime, and then add additional, consecutive years to that time if the defendant was in a gang. This is made possible by the California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevent Act, which makes it a crime to be a member of a gang. However, to face a gang enhancement, the defendant must first be convicted of a felony charge.
Second, the prosecution can charge what would otherwise be a misdemeanor as a felony if they can prove that the defendant was acting on behalf of a gang.
The Most Common Charges a Prosecutor Will Try to Pin Gang Crimes To
Technically, any crime that was committed to benefit a gang can cause a gang crimes sentencing enhancement. However, there are some crimes that are more likely than others to be charged this way:
- Weapons charges (including firearm charges)
- Petty theft
- Drug crimes
- Grand theft
If you have been charged with one of the above and believe that a gang enhancement is likely to be added, contact an attorney right away.
Potential Gang Enhancements
California law allows a judge to add:
- Two, three, or four years if the defendant is convicted of a felony
- Five years if the defendant was convicted of a serious felony
- Ten years if the defendant is convicted of a violent felony
- 15 years if the defendant is convicted of a felony that involves:
- Home-invasion robbery
- Shotting into an inhabited dwelling
- Shooting from a motor vehicle
- Life sentence if the defendant is convicted of a crime that has the potential for life imprisonment
- Any amount of time (as the judge sees fit) if the felony occurred less than 1,000 feet from a school when the school was in session.
Defenses to Gang Crimes
There are many ways we can fight against charges of gang crimes, including these three common options:
- Proving you were not a member of a gang. Just because you might have people in your family or friends group that is a member of a gang does not mean you are in a gang. It is not illegal to spend time with people who are in a gang and if this is the only association, then it should not be enough to incur the sentencing enhancement.
- Proving the crime was not committed for the benefit of a gang. Even if the defendant is a member of a gang, they might not have committed the crime to benefit the gang. If they committed the crime for their own personal benefit, then they should not face the gang crimes sentencing enhancement.
- The gang cop is not an expert. “Gang cop,” is a term used to describe the police officers that are involved in identify gangs. The prosecutor will often use these officers as expert witnesses. However, appellate courts have held that gang cops can only testify to things beyond the knowledge of the jury in order to give the jury a proper frame of reference. They cannot add their own conclusions or opinions. If they do so, then your criminal defense attorney should object.
- The sentence goes against the interests of justice. The judge has a lot of room when making this decision. We can appeal to their sense of justice to implore that adding additional years is not in the best interests of justice.
These are three of the options we will consider when defending you against this sentencing enhancement, though the right way forward will depend on the specifics of your case. Call Simmons Wagner, LLP now at (949) 439-5857 to request a consultation.