Bifurcation of Gang Affiliation Charges In California

In People v. Funes (1994), supra, 23 Cal.App.4th 1506, the defendant was convicted of one count of second degree murder and one count of participating in a criminal street gang. In addition, the jury found he committed the murder for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal street gang. (Id. at p. 1510.) The defendant was a member of the 18th Street gang. They had a rivalry with the Trece gang. the defendant killed a member of the Trece gang. the prosecution was allowed to present evidence "of numerous incidents between the 18th Street and Trece gangs" which occurred in the year before the homicide and which allegedly led to the murder. (Id. at p. 1511.) On appeal, the defendant in Funes argued the trial court should have bifurcated the gang affiliation charges from the murder charge or, if bifurcation was not required, the trial court should have excluded certain gang evidence under Evidence Code section 352. (People v. Funes, supra, 23 Cal.App.4th at p. 1516.) The appellate court in Funes declined to address the threshold argument that, as a general proposition, gang affiliation allegations must be bifurcated from other charges in order to insulate the defendant from the inherent prejudice in gang affiliation evidence. It declined to do so, in part, because the appellate court found it was not necessary to its decision. The Funes court instead focused on whether "the trial court properly found that evidence of gang affiliation and activity was relevant to prove motive, malice, premeditation and intent with respect to the murder charge in this case." (23 Cal.App.4th at p. 1518.) The appellate court in Funes found the trial court properly admitted the gang evidence because it was relevant to defendant's motive and intent. The appellate court concluded that the trial court also operated within the bounds of reason when it exercised its Evidence Code section 352 discretion and admitted the evidence.