Gang Crime Sentencing Reform in California

Gang in Riverside carrying weapons

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 much harsher penalties for crimes when they were allegedly gang-related. Gang activity involved:

  1. Three or more people
  2. Identifying names or symbols
  3. Primary activities that involved criminal conduct
  4. 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:

  1. It prevents prosecutors from alleging gang activity simply because individuals know each other, are related to each other, or reside in the same community.
  2. Shortens the list of criminal offenses that can be charged with gang enhancements
  3. It does not allow a prosecutor to use the current allegations to establish a “pattern” of criminal activity
  4. Requires the prosecutors to provide direct evidence to support allegations of current gang association
  5. Limits the enhancements to sentences
  6. 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:

  1. Assault with a deadly weapon
  2. Robbery
  3. Manslaughter or homicide
  4. Selling or trafficking drugs
  5. Selling or trafficking firearms
  6. Shooting at an inhabited car or home
  7. Shooting from a motor vehicle
  8. Weapons offenses
  9. Arson
  10. Intimidation of victims or witnesses
  11. Grand theft or carjacking
  12. Burglary
  13. Rape
  14. Money laundering
  15. Kidnapping
  16. Mayhem
  17. Torture
  18. 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 possible to resolve your case as favorably as possible. Contact us or call our office today to schedule your consultation with a criminal defense lawyer in Riverside.

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