Challenging Gang-Related Charges in Santa Barbara County, CA
If you or your family member has been charged with a gang-related offense in Santa Barbara, you are facing serious criminal charges. The state of California punishes participation in criminal street gangs with tough prison sentences. You will face enhanced penalties if you are convicted of promoting or taking part in gang crimes. If you are charged with any gang-related offense in Southern California, you need a skilled criminal defense attorney right away. You need a defense lawyer who is knowledgeable about representing clients charged with California's gang sentencing enhancement law.
The attorneys at Andrade Law Offices are former prosecutors and aggressive defense lawyers who have achieved successful outcomes for individuals facing gang charges in Santa Barbara County. We understand that some people who are not active gang members mistakenly get charged with gang-related offenses. We are known for aggressively defending our clients and asserting their legal rights.
You can discuss your legal rights during a free consultation – call (805) 962.4944 to get started!
Being charged with a gang offense does not mean that you are guilty. After the legal team at Andrade Law Offices investigates the charges against you, we will put together a solid defense strategy and present the full facts, not just law enforcement's version of events. In some cases, we have had success in having gang enhancement charges dismissed altogether. When you work with a Santa Barbara criminal defense lawyer at our firm, we will work to resolve the charges to minimize the disruption to your life when possible.
How California Penal Code Addresses Gang Activity
California has passed laws that impose harsh punishment on gang-related criminal activity. The criminal laws relating to street gang activity are encompassed in the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act (STEP Act) and codified as part of the California Penal Code.
- California Penal Code § 186.22 makes it illegal to take part in a street gang and imposes punishment of up to three years in state prison for actively taking part in a criminal street gang.
- The law defines a criminal street gang as any group of three or more people who have a common name or identifying sign and have as a primary activity the commission of criminal acts.
Membership in a criminal street gang, however, is often murky and is not clearly defined. It may be difficult for the prosecutor to prove that you are an active participant of a gang. People may be mistaken for gang members and charged with being part of a street gang simply because they live in a Southern California neighborhood where a street gang is active, are related to a gang member, or because they have childhood friends who are gang members.
The STEP Act & Felony Gang Crimes
The second section of the California STEP Act — California Penal Code § 186.22(b) PC —sets forth enhanced punishments for individuals convicted of committing a felony to benefit or in association with a criminal street gang. Prosecutors frequently use this section to seek tougher penalties for individuals charged with other felonies.
For example, an individual convicted of a violent felony shall receive an additional 10 years in prison in addition to the term of the underlying felony. Depending on the felony, the enhanced gang-related penalties may add two years to 25 years onto a prison sentence. Conviction of gang-related activity within 1,000 feet of a public or private school also can lead to a longer prison sentence.
Certain felonies committed to assist a gang, including shooting into an inhabited dwelling or occupied car, carjacking, home invasion robbery, and drive-by shooting that cause serious injury or death carry even harsher penalties of 15 years to life in California State Prison, if you are convicted.
The third section of California Penal Code § 186.22(d) allows prosecutors to prosecute a misdemeanor offense as a felony if the offense is committed at the direction of a street gang or with the intent or purpose of aiding or promoting a gang's criminal conduct. You may serve several years in state prison rather than a year or less in county jail if convicted under this part of the California Penal Code.
What Should You Do if Questioned About Gang Activity?
If you are stopped and questioned by police about being a member of a gang, you have a legal right to remain silent. Whether or not you are under arrest, it's important not to say anything that may be used against you to identify you as a member of a criminal street gang.
The police officer may act friendly, but it is best not to discuss your knowledge of any gang activity with police without guidance from a Santa Barbara criminal defense lawyer. It's best to be polite, but state clearly to the police officer that you would like to have an attorney present for any questioning. If police identify you as a member or associate of a criminal street gang, you will face stiffer punishment if convicted of a crime—even a misdemeanor.
What Are the Legal Defenses Against Gang Charges in California?
Our attorneys are former prosecutors and know how prosecutors operate and how to negotiate with them. They are well aware that police may share with the district attorney only the facts that support a gang-related offense charge and not the mitigating factors. They know the kind of defense arguments that get traction with prosecutors and the circumstances in which a prosecutor may agree to reduce or waive gang charges in California.
Through our detailed investigation of the incident, we may be able to develop evidence that:
- You did not commit the underlying felony for which you are charged.
- You were acting in self-defense.
- You were not an active gang participant.
- You did not aid or abet a crime by other gang members.
- You were not acting on behalf of a gang or to promote a gang's criminal enterprises.
We may be able to argue persuasively that the circumstances of your case are special and sentencing you under California's gang offense enhancements law does not serve justice. As part of California Penal Code § 186.22, judges have some flexibility to strike the gang enhancement punishment if persuaded by a knowledgeable Santa Barbara criminal defense attorney that the facts do not fit the punishment.
Defense Lawyer for Santa Barbara Gang Charges
If you have been charged with a gang-related offense in Santa Barbara, your freedom and your future depend in large part on the skill of the criminal defense attorney you choose to represent you.
Our attorneys have more than 40 years of combined legal experience and have insider knowledge of both prosecution and defense strategies. We use that knowledge to help clients and have successfully handled thousands of criminal defense cases in Santa Barbara County. Our entire team is committed to protecting your individual rights. We are available 24 hours a day to our clients and will return your call within an hour. It's important to act quickly if you have been charged with a gang offense in Southern California.
Call our offices at (805) 962.4944 today for insight regarding gang crime charges.