In recent years, California legislators have reformed many aspects of criminal law and sentencing. One area of reform has been how defendants are sentenced for crimes associated with street gangs. If you face accusations of criminal offenses associated with street gangs, discuss the matter with a gang crime defense attorney as soon as you can.
The Previous STEP Act
California enacted the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention (STEP) Act in 1988 in response to fears of increasing street gang activity. The law aimed to make any type of gang-related conduct illegal and put in much harsher penalties for crimes when they were allegedly gang-related. Gang activity involved:
- Three or more people
- With identifying names or symbols
- Primary activities that involved criminal conduct
- Members who had a pattern of criminal conduct
Prosecutors could easily allege gang-related crime when it was inappropriate, and many people received significantly enhanced prison sentences as a result. Moreover, the large majority of people who received gang crime enhancements were people of color, and gang-related arrests and convictions were largely racially-biased. It was beyond time for an overhaul of gang crime laws.
The New Law
In 2020, California’s District Attorney issued a special directive for prosecuting offices to no longer seek gang crime sentencing enhancements. Then, in 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 333 into law, known as the STEP Forward Act of 2021. In part, the new law:
- Prevents prosecutors from alleging gang activity simply because individuals know each other, are related, or reside in the same community.
- Shortens the list of criminal offenses that can be charged with gang enhancements
- Does not allow a prosecutor to use the current allegations to establish a “pattern” of criminal activity
- Requires the prosecutors provide direct evidence to support allegations of current gang association
- Limits the enhancements to sentences
- Makes the underlying charge and gang accusations separate issues at trial
While this law is certainly a step in the right direction when it comes to gang crime reform, keep in mind that you can still face additional prison time for gang accusations relating to the following offenses, among others:
- Assault with a deadly weapon
- Manslaughter or homicide
- Selling or trafficking drugs
- Selling or trafficking firearms
- Shooting at an inhabited car or home
- Shooting from a motor vehicle
- Weapons offenses
- Intimidation of victims or witnesses
- Grand theft or carjacking
- Money laundering
- Felony extortion
Most enhancements can add between one and three years to a prison sentence. However, enhancements can involve an additional five years for serious felonies and ten years for violent felonies.
Speak with a Riverside, CA Gang Crimes Lawyer
If you have been accused of a criminal offense related to gang activity, you should contact an attorney as soon as you can. At DeLimon Law, we know how seriously a criminal case can impact your life and will do everything we can to resolve your case as favorably as possible. Contact us or call our office today to set up your consultation with a criminal defense lawyer in Riverside.