Gang Crimes

Orange County gang crime defense attorney William Weinberg has handled numerous gang crime matters ranging from first degree murder to vandalism. It is extremely important to hire someone experienced in these matters.

The California legislature has added dozens of crimes and sentencing enhancements to the books to punish those who have been convicted of or associated with a criminal street gang. A criminal street gang is defined as any organization, association or group of 3 or more persons (whether formal or informal) which has 1) continuity of purpose, 2) seeks a group identity, 3) has members who individually or collectively have engaged in criminal activity.

There is a weird circularity to the reasoning applied by prosecutors and gang cops in deciding whether a person is: 1) in a gang and 2) whether they were committing a crime in the benefit of the gang. The reasoning assumes that every time someone does something criminal, it is for the benefit of a gang.

It should be noted that many agencies receive funding for investigation and arrest for suspect gang members. This creates a conflict of interest that should be exposed to the public. There are many instances where a person commits a criminal offense and should be punished but the prosecutor decides to allege gang charges in addition to the substantive offense (ex- drug sales, assault with a firearm) because he or she knows that when a jury hears about a gang, jurors will fold their hands in laps and wait to convict.

No law-abiding person likes criminal street gangs. That is stating the obvious. But William Weinberg has won many cases in which the prosecution alleged gang membership but Mr. Weinberg was able to show that the offense was not committed for the gang but for personal reasons. The outcome of these victories has saved defendants decades behind bars.

Areas of attack

An experienced gang crime defense attorney in Orange County (www.williamweinberg.com) would look at three areas of attack.

  1. Is the defendant a gang member? Often times, the police assume that the person hanging around other documented gang members is a gang member. This is frequently not the case. People gather for many different reasons. Sometimes, a non gang member will hang around documented gang members because they are related to him or her or because they are smoking marijuana together. It is not a crime to spend time with gang members. It depends on the purpose though. If the police cannot document someone as a gang member, the prosecutor will ten charge the defendant as someone who is committing a criminal act for the benefit of or in association with a criminal street gang. This does not carry as much time but does add significant jail time (2-4 years or in the case of a serious felony an additional term 5 years or in a violent felony 10 years.)

    The way that gang cops show someone is a gang is by prior contacts that is documented by FI (field interview) cards. This is simple as an officer driving up to a juvenile and asking identifying information, name, who he is with etc. they then file the card. Another way the cop shows someone is a gang member is that he (the suspect gang member) was served a S.T.E.P notice. A step notice is a piece of paper that says that the police think that you are a gang member and we want you to know that we think you are a gang member and we may prosecute. This is ridiculous. There is no real value to this document to this besides as a self perpetuating, self confirming technique to bolster an otherwise weak prosecution. It is crucial that a qualified criminal defense attorney force the prosecution to produce any documentation about a defendants association with criminal street gangs and analyze each document for its value.

  2. Was a crime committed for the benefit of a gang? As I noted above, crimes by documented gang members are not committed for the benefit of that gang but for that persons benefit. One example of this is when a gang member who is also a drug addict steals to support his habit. These are commonly prosecuted as street gang charges under the following theory: robbery enhances gang reputation because people will be afraid of the gang members. This is rubbish. May cases are inappropriately charged as gang crimes then they are in fact crimes committed for the benefit of the individual themselves.

  3. Is the gang cop truly an expert? Prosecutors are well known to use gang cops as “experts.” in order to strengthen a weak case by having the gang cop testify to a variety of issues that are beyond their own true knowledge. As appellate courts have decided, a gang cop can testify as an expert only as to things beyond the jury’s knowledge in order to explain those facts to a jury and give a proper frame of reference. What often happens in reality is that gang cops will add in conclusions of their own that have no basis in science or psychology. This is improper and needs to be challenged by the gang criminal defense attorney. Transcripts are often available that contain testimony of gang experts in prior trials. It is important that a qualified gang crime defense lawyer in Orange County seeks out and uses those transcripts to attack the credibility of a gang cop that testifies as an expert in his case. Finally, it is important to limit the scope of the gang cop’s testimony as much as possible so that the cop doesn’t believe he has the freedom to wander outside his own knowledge and engage in speculation. If allowed to do so, the testimony will send a message to the jury that he knows more about the individual than anyone else and what makes them tick.

Gang crimes range from drug sales to homicide, murder, kidnapping, robbery and trespassing. If you or someone you know has been charged with gang crimes in Orange County or any other city in Southern California, you will need experienced legal defense. Call Orange County gang crime defense lawyer William Weinberg at (949) 474-8008.