Gang Enhancement Example Case in California

The People v. Hernandez (2004) 33 Cal.4th 1040 court acknowledged bifurcation may be appropriate because the predicate offenses offered to establish a pattern of criminal gang activity need not be related to the charged offense or the defendant, and that evidence of such offenses may be unduly prejudicial, warranting bifurcation. (33 Cal.4th at p. 1049.) It also recognized that other gang evidence, even related to the defendant, "may be so extraordinarily prejudicial, and of so little relevance to guilt, that it threatens to sway the jury to convict regardless of the defendant's actual guilt." (Ibid.) But it concluded that, "to the extent the evidence supporting the gang enhancement would be admissible at a trial of guilt, any inference of prejudice would be dispelled, and bifurcation would not be necessary. " (Id. at pp. 1049-1050.) In Hernandez, the court held that even if some of the evidence to prove the gang enhancement would be inadmissible to prove the charged offense, e.g. if it was excluded under Evidence Code section 352, bifurcation may still be denied. (Hernandez, supra, 33 Cal.4th at p. 1050.) It noted countervailing factors favoring a unitary trial, e.g. avoiding confusing the jury with collateral matters. (Ibid.) It concluded that "the trial court's discretion to deny bifurcation of a charged gang enhancement is similarly broader than its discretion to admit gang evidence when the gang enhancement is not charged." (Ibid.) In Hernandez, the court found that much of the gang evidence was relevant to the charged offense. The defendant told one of the robbery victims that she did not know whom she was dealing with and identified himself as a gang member. (Id. at p. 1083, 1050-1051.) The court concluded that the defendant had attempted to use his gang status in demanding money from the victim. Although one of the defendants did not specifically identify himself as a gang member, "the evidence showed the robbery was a coordinated effort by two gang members who used gang membership as a means to accomplish the robbery." (Id. at p. 1051.) Under these circumstances, the court reasoned that the gang expert's testimony "helped the jury understand the significance of one defendant's announcement of his gang affiliation, which was relevant to motive and the use of fear." (Ibid.)