AB333 Brings Welcome Changes to California Gang Enhancement Laws – But Does it Do Enough?

AB333 Brings Welcome Changes to California Gang Enhancement Laws – But Does it Do Enough?

AB 333 modifies current law to mitigate the negative impacts of gang enhancements. With gang enhancements, it may also be possible to decrease the sentences of present inmates. At Chambers Law Firm we know the ins and outs of this statute and can use that deep knowledge to refute charges of disproportionate gang enhancements against individuals who have been wrongly accused.

According to the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, people of color receive 92 percent of gang enhancements. The statutes establishing gang enhancements in California are ambiguous, allowing prosecutors to achieve minimal proof criteria. They are a major contributor to mass incarceration in the state. If you are facing a gang enhancement for a serious felony, contact Chambers Law Firm at 714-760-4088 for a free legal consultation.

The goal of AB333

AB 333, also known as The STEP Forward Act, is a bill that aims to reduce the harm that gang enhancements inflict to families and communities in California by addressing the racial imbalance of enhancements.

AB 333’s objectives include the following:

  • To prohibit prosecutors from claiming that persons are gang members just because they are from the same neighborhood, are connected, or know each other
  • To reduce the number of offences for which gang enhancements are permitted
  • To prevent the current change from being used as evidence of a “pattern” of criminal gang behavior
  • To require firsthand evidence of the defendant’s continuing gang activity
  • At trial, to distinguish gang allegations from underlying charges

The gang enhancement law of the past

A person who is convicted of certain criminal acts in California may receive a longer sentence if the prosecution can prove that the crime was committed for the profit of a gang and the defendant sought to aid, facilitate, or promote gang members’ criminal activity.

The former legislation described a “criminal street gang” as a group of three or more people who share a common name, sign, or symbol. Committing crimes must be one of the group’s principal activities, and group members must be involved in a pattern of criminal conduct, either individually or collectively.

A gang enhancement can elevate a misdemeanor into a felony with a maximum sentence of three years in jail. If added to a crime that is already a felony, it could increase the punishment by two additional years up to life in prison.

What’s changed

According to AB 333, a defendant can only receive a longer sentence with gang enhancements if the prosecution can show that the crimes are part of a criminal gang’s pattern of behavior, the crimes have benefitted a criminal street gang, and the common benefit must be more than reputational.

Unlike past legislation, the new statute expressly specifies that the defendant’s current offense cannot be used to establish a pattern of criminal gang participation. The prosecution must establish that there was a pattern based on earlier criminal behavior.

The rule would oblige the prosecution to prove a genuine relationship between the offender and a gang by stating that the “shared benefit must be more than reputational.” Currently, people are convicted of gang activity just because they live in the same neighborhood as gang members, are linked to gang members, or are acquaintances with gang members.

Additionally, looting, felony vandalism, and some personal identity fraud charges are no longer considered “patterns of criminal gang behavior” under this new statute. If you have been charged with a crime and need an experienced attorney, contact Chambers Law Firm at 714-760-4088 for a free legal consultation.

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