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What Are California's Gang Enhancement Laws?


To combat gang activity, California enacted the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention (STEP) Act. As part of this effort, Penal Code 186.22 PC, which is sometimes referred to as the gang enhancement law, was passed to penalize individuals found to be participating in a gang or impose stricter punishments on people who carried out criminal activities on behalf of a gang. The individual does not have to be a full-fledged member to be charged under this law; merely associating with the group can result in legal action.

Participating with a Street Gang

Under the first subsection of the gang enhancement law, a person who is part of or associates with a gang and knows that the group has a history of participating in criminal activity could be charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense.

As defined by the statute, a “pattern of criminal behavior” means that the group committed, attempted to commit, or was convicted of 2 or more offenses, which include:

To be convicted, the individual must do more than passively sit by while the other members or associates engage in criminal behavior; they must have an active involvement in whatever undertakings are carried out by the group. If convicted of a misdemeanor, the individual faces up to 1 year in county jail. If they are convicted of a felony, they could be incarcerated for 16 months, or 2 or 3 years in state prison.

Committing a Felony for the Benefit of the Gang

The second subsection of Penal Code 186.22 PC imposes enhanced prison sentences for individuals convicted with committing a felony to assist in a gang’s criminal conduct. That means the person will be punished not only by the terms for the actual offense but also by a sentence for being involved in gang-related activity.

Generally, the court will impose an additional sentence of 2, 3, or 4 years. However, depending on the type of crime, the terms could be lengthier.

Under this law, sentence enhancements are as follows:

  • If the crime was a serious felony: 5 years
  • If the offense involved extortion through threat or dissuading a witness: 7 years to life
  • If the crime was a violent felony: 10 years
  • If the offense involved home invasion robbery, carjacking, shooting in an inhabited dwelling, or discharging a gun from a vehicle: 15 years to life in prison

Schedule a free criminal consultation with Appel & Morse

Our team fights hard to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals charged with various types of crimes. If you were accused of participating in a gang or carrying out an offense for the group, we will provide effective legal defense to fight the allegations. Backed by over 40 years of combined legal experience, including serving as deputy district attorneys, we know what it takes to win.

For a skilled advocate on your side, call us at (805) 467-6060 or contact us online.

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