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In General: The Step Act
The California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevent Act (STEP Act) was the California Legislature’s answer to the perceived growing problems of criminal street gangs in California. Pursuant to Penal Code 186.22 the act punishes individuals for participation in criminal street gangs in two ways:
- Gang participation itself is a crime for a defendant who knowingly participates in a criminal street gang by promoting, furthering, or assisting the felonious conduct of members of the gang; and
- Penal Code 186.22(b) provides sentence enhancements for defendants convicted of felonies in association with and intending to further criminal street gangs.
If you or someone you know has been charged with being in a criminal street gang, call or text (858) 444-5256 or use our contact form to speak directly to attorney experienced the defense of gang crimes.
Elements of STEP Act Crimes
To prove that a defendant is in violation of the STEP Act, the prosecution must prove the defendant:
- Actively participates in a “criminal street gang;”
- Has knowledge that the members of the gang engage or have engaged in a “pattern of criminal gang activity;” and
- “Wilfully promotes, furthers, or assists” any felonious conduct by members of the gang.
The STEP Act defines a “criminal street gang” as any ongoing association of three or more person that has a common name or common identifying sign or symbol, commits one or more specified criminal acts as a primary activity, and whose members engage in a pattern of criminal gang activity.
Additionally, expert testimony can be used establish both the existence of a criminal street gang and that the criminal activities are gang related.
Punishment in San Diego County Street Gang Crime Cases
Penal Code 186.22(d) provides that any offense, felony or a misdemeanor, done for the benefit of a street gang is punishable by imprisonment for 2, 3, or 4 years in state prison, or one year in county jail.
Further, Penal Code 186.22 provides that defendants convicted of felonies associated with and intending to further criminal street gangs are eligible to receive enhanced sentences under subdivision (b) of the STEP Act if the prosecutor proves the following:
- The defendant committed the felony “for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with” a criminal street gang; and
- The defendant specifically intends to “promote, further, or assist” in the criminal conduct of the gang members.
The enhanced sentence under subdivision (b) depends on the type of felony committed. The punishment for a “serious felony” is an additional prison term of 5 years.
The punishment for a “violent felony” is an additional prison term of 10 years. If the felony is neither serious nor violent, the court can enhance the prison sentence by two, three, or four years at its discretion.
However, if the felony is one of those listed within paragraph (4) of subdivision (b) of the STEP Act, the defendant may be sentenced to an indeterminate term of life imprisonment. Paragraph (5) of subdivision (b) requires the defendant to serve a minimum of fifteen years without parole unless the court determines the minimum term of the sentence under paragraph (4).
For all other public offenses, the sentence enhancement if up to three years in prison.
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