San Diego Gang Crimes Attorney

San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney Discuss Gang Enhancements in California

San Diego Gang Crimes LawyerSan Diego Gang Territories Map
San Diego may not be as world-renowned for its criminal street gangs as nearby Los Angeles, but America's Finest City is home to some of the most dangerous and notorious gangs in the world.  Gangs is a broad term that can include street gangs, prison gangs, "Outlaw" or 1%er motorcycle clubs (MCs), drug cartels and other crime organizations.  San Diego's gangs control much of the drug trade, weapons trafficking, prostitution and counterfeit goods in the city.

A 2013 study by SANDAG found that San Diego is home to 158 gangs and 7,500 documented gang members.  Some notorious gangs with roots and ties to San Diego include: Logan Heights, Shelltown, Lincoln Park Bloods, 30s Crips, 40s Crips, Westside Locos, Paradise Hills, as well as various other branches of the crips, bloods, Mexican Mafia, MS 13 and other national and regional gangs.  San Diego also has ties and chapters connected with Mexican drug cartels, outlaw motorcycle clubs and prison gangs.

With gangs responsible for much of the crime in San Diego and other cities in California, the states have made laws targeting gang members, with enhancements to crimes if committed by gang members and for the benefit of the gang.  While the First Amendment protects our freedoms of association, lawmakers have made clear that they prefer to punish gang members, even if it means lessened freedoms for everyone.  Unfortunately, the courts do enforce these laws and the San Diego County District Attorney's office aggressively prosecutes gang members, adding gang enhancements whenever they can.  In addition to gang enhancements, gang membership can be used as an aggravating factor in setting bail, plea negotiations and bail.  Further, membership in a street gang can have the effect of swaying a jury and prejudicing their deliberations.

Gang membership is "proven"
through the use of a "gang expert" usually a gang-division detective.  The detective will testify that tattoos, clothing, affiliations, and statements made by a defendant can go to show gang membership.  I once saw an "expert" testify so broadly that virtually any Latino male with a shaved head would qualify as a gang member.  For many gang members, it is a point of pride to admit being a member of a gang (called "claiming"), but the aggressive enforcement of gang enhancements has led many gang members to reconsider this practice, making it more difficult to prove.

Penal Code Section 186.22(a) makes it a crime to participate in a criminal street gang and to assist in any gang member's felony conduct.  So in addition to being charged with the principal offense or being an accessory, a suspected gang member will get a PC 186.22(a) enhancement charged added as well.  The government has the burden of proof and must be able to support the contention that a defendant is in fact a member of a criminal street gang, and not just a friend of a gang member or merely present in a gang neighborhood.

Pursuant to Penal Code Section 186.22(b), committing a felony for the benefit of a criminal street gang subjects a defendant to a separate and consecutive mandatory prison term.  Prosecutors allege a gang enhancement whenever they believe that the defendant is the member of a criminal street gang and acted for the benefit of the gang.  This enhancement is from two to five years for nonviolent felonies and an additional ten years for violent felonies.  Carjacking, drive-by shootings and home invasion robberies are subject to a 15 year criminal street gang enhancement.  For example, if someone is arrested for selling marijuana, they would likely avoid state prison.  With the gang enhancement, however, the alleged gang member would have to serve at least two years consecutive to a prison sentence on the same crime.  The "for the benefit of a gang" requirement has been read broadly enough to account for virtually all felonies.  Violent felonies, even if motivated by personal issues, are often deemed to further a gang's goal of fear and intimidation.  Additionally, crimes like vandalism will typically be assumed to represent some form of gang communication or representation of testimony.  The prosecution will aslo argue that crimes that bring the defendant money will be money for the gang as a whole.  I have seen the gang enhancement applied to drug sales, pimping and theft crimes. 

Moreover, prosecutors may turn any misdemeanor into a felony if the misdemeanor is committed for the benefit of the gang pursuant to PC 186.22(d).  This turns probation cases into state prison cases.  (note: "probation" can include county jail time of up to one year, but not state prison time).  Prosecutors are so aggressive in their pursuit of convictions for gang members, that offenses that might otherwise have been ignored are treated very seriously.

If you or a loved one has been arrested and charged with a serious crime, and/or a gang enhancement, contact the Law Offices of Nicholas Loncar for a Free Consultation with a San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney.  619-930-9515.

Nicholas M. Loncar, Esq.
San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney
San Diego Expungements Lawyer
By Nicholas Loncar 


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