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California’s Gang Enhancement Laws Explained

California is one of the three states in the West and North Central region of the United States that has the highest number of members who are reported to blame for 90% of crimes.


Because of this, legislators have enacted tough sentencing laws in order to curb gang activities and deter gang-related crimes. These California Gang Enhancement laws will have a huge impact on the prison terms of people convicted of gang-related felonies.


What is the “STEP Act”?


This refers to the “California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act” or the Penal Code 186.22 PC. The law is designed to enhance street gang sentencing. It has two main parts.


The Crime of Participation in a Gang (Penal Code 186.22(a) PC)


This part of the law makes it a crime to:

  • Actively participate in a criminal street gang
  • Assist in felonies perpetrated by gang members


This means participating in gang activities in a way that is not passive or in name only. A person can be considered an active participant, even if they are not an active member of the gang but has been frequently associated with known gang members.


The same is true even if that person did not devote a substantial part of their time to the gang. As long as they are proven to have “assisted, furthered or promoted” a criminal gang activity, they will be penalized for the crime of participation in a gang.


Penalties include:

  • 1 year in county jail or
  • A California felony sentence in a state prison for a period of 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years.


The Gang Sentencing Enhancement (Penal Code 186.22(b) PC)


This part of the law states that a mandatory prison sentence will be provided to anyone who commits a felony for the gang’s benefit. The enhanced sentencing will be in addition and consecutive to the penalty an individual already served for the underlying felony.


This will affect crimes categorized as:

  • “Generic” felonies
  • “Serious” felonies
  • “Violent” felonies
  • Specific felonies
  • Misdemeanors
  • Other sentencing considerations


Under the gang enhancement laws, anyone convicted of “Generic” felonies will receive an additional person term that can run to 2, 3, or 4 years if the STEP Act applies. This is in addition and consecutive to the existing penalties and any additional charges.


As for “serious” felonies, if a person commits any of the 42 types of California’s “serious” felonies, including “shooting at an inhabited dwelling or occupied car,” 5 years will be added to the prison term if the STEP Act applies.


Murder, great bodily injury on a victim, and other felonies considered “Violent” felonies in California will have a 10-year prison term added to their existing sentence if committed in connection with a street gang and the STEP Act is applied.


How Kern Criminal Defense Can Help


Legal defenses are available for individuals charged with a street gang enhancement laws sentence. You just need a good criminal defense attorney in California.


Whether you violated Part A or Part B of the STEP Act, our criminal defense attorneys will provide the best legal defense.