"Bloods," "Crips," "18th Street," and "MS" are examples of notorious criminal street gangs. But what is a gang? Generally, a gang is a group of people who have some type of association with a common identifier and who band together for personal protection and to commit crimes. California Penal Code section 186.22(f) provides a more precise legal definition, defining a "criminal street gang" as:

  • Any ongoing organization, association, or group of three or more persons;
  • Which can be formal or informal;
  • That has a common name or common identifying sign or symbol; and
  • Whose primary activity is the commission of one or more criminal acts enumerated in California Penal Code Section 186.22 (e) (1) – (25), or (31) - (33); and
  • Whose members individually or collectively engage in, or have engaged in a pattern of criminal activity.

The enumerated section in 186.22(e) (1) – (25) and (31) – (33) refers to a long list of serious crimes such as kidnapping, rape, and felony vandalism.

California aggressively prosecutes gangs and gang members. In fact, any person who actively participates in a gang, knowing that its members engage in a pattern of criminal gang activity, and who willfully promotes, furthers, or assists in any felonious conduct by members of that gang can be charged with a crime under California Penal Code section 186.22(a). Participation in a gang can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony. A misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in county jail, and a felony is punishable by 16 months to three years in state prison.

"Active" participation in a gang means involvement with a gang that is more than passive. "Active" participation does not require that the gang member devote all or even a substantial part of his or her time or efforts to the gang, or that he or she is or was an actual gang member. "Active" participation does not require that a gang member be a leader of the gang or live in a gang area. Examples of "active" participation include a person who is seen regularly with known gang members and has been informed by police that he or she is in the presence of gang members or a person who was known to brag about "kicking back" with gang members.

A "pattern of criminal activity" means the commission, attempted commission, solicitation, or conviction of two or more specific crimes that occur within a specific period of time and were committed on separate occasions or were personally committed by two or more persons. The specific crimes include an array of crimes ranging from assault with a deadly weapon and arson to carjacking and rape. See California Penal Code section 186.22 (e) for the enumerated offenses.

To "promote, further, or assist in felonious conduct" means that the person (defendant) aided and abetted felony conduct by members of the gang. Felony conduct refers to most of the crimes enumerated in California Penal Code section 186.22 (e).

If you or someone you know is charged with a gang-related offense, consult with an experienced Los Angeles Gang Defense Attorney to learn about the criminal justice system, your rights, defenses, and any and all legal options available.

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