Gang Related Crimes Example Cases in California

In People v. Martinez (2008) 158 Cal.App.4th 1324, the trial court imposed a gang registration requirement pursuant to section 186.30 when the defendant pled guilty to committing an automobile burglary and subsequently violated his probation by associating with a known gang member. (Martinez, supra, 116 Cal.App.4th at pp. 757-758.) The appellate court resolved that imposition of a gang registration requirement may be imposed only where the underlying crime is proven to have been gang related, i.e., where the evidence supports a determination that it was committed, as defined in section 186.22, for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with any street gang. (Martinez, supra, at pp. 760-762.) That court reversed the gang registration requirement, noting that "auto burglary is a crime, but not one necessarily gang related, and the circumstances of the offense as described in the record before us fail to connect the offense with defendant's gang activities." (Id. at p. 762.) Even if the burglary was committed with an acknowledged gang member, the record must demonstrate that the offense was directed by, associated with, or benefited his criminal street gang. (Ibid.) The court concluded that a defendant's personal affiliations and criminal record are relevant in determining whether a particular offense was gang related; however, in order to substantiate that a crime was committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal street gang, some evidentiary support beyond defendant's past record and associations must be adduced. (Ibid.) "The crime itself must have some connection with the activities of the gang." (Id. at p. 761.) In People v. Albarran (2007) 149 Cal.App.4th 214, the trial court denied a defense pretrial motion to exclude evidence of defendant's gang affiliation and other gang evidence in defendant's trial for attempted murder, shooting at an inhabited dwelling, and kidnapping for carjacking, all of which were alleged to have been committed for the benefit of a criminal street gang. (Id. at p. 217.) After the jury found the gang enhancements true, the trial court granted a motion for new trial as to the gang enhancement, finding sufficient evidence did not support the true finding. (Ibid.) Defendant thereafter filed a motion for new trial as to the substantive charges, alleging he had been prejudiced by the admission of the gang evidence. (Ibid.) The court denied the motion, noting that the gang evidence was relevant to the issues of defendant's motive and intent in committing the underlying crimes. (Ibid.) The appellate court reversed the judgment and remanded the matter for a new trial on the substantive offenses, concluding that the People had failed to present sufficient evidence that the crimes were gang motivated. (Albarran, supra, 149 Cal.App.4th at pp. 217, 232.) At trial, "the prosecutor argued the case presented a 'classic' gang shooting and that the entire purpose of the shooting was to gain respect and enhance the shooters' reputations within the gang community, and to intimidate the neighborhood--essentially to 'earn one's bones' within the gang. The prosecutor noted, however, that he had no percipient witness or evidence to prove the crime was gang related or motivated, but instead would be relying on testimony of the sheriff's gang expert . . . who was most familiar with the defendant and his gang . . . ." (Id. at p. 219.) The People's gang expert testified as to his numerous contacts with defendant, defendant's admission to gang membership, defendant's gang tattoos, and gang graffiti at defendant's home. (Albarran, supra, 149 Cal.App.4th at p. 220.) The expert conceded that there was no direct evidence of defendant's specific purpose in committing the offenses or that they were at all related to defendant's gang: "There was no evidence in this case that any of the shooters had made themselves known--the shooters made no announcements, did not throw any gang signs and there was no graffiti referring to the crime." (Id. at p. 221.) Nonetheless, the expert opined that the crimes were gang related because they were committed within the gang's territory, they occurred at a party when gang crimes are often committed, and more than one shooter was involved. (Id. at pp. 220-221.) In the expert's opinion, the crimes would benefit the gang because the gang members would gain respect within the gang by word of mouth and the offense would serve to intimidate people. (Ibid.) The court concluded that despite evidence that defendant was a gang member, the motive for the underlying crimes "was not apparent from the circumstances of the crime." (Albarran, supra, 149 Cal.App.4th at p. 227.) The expert's contention that gang members gain respect and enhance their status within their gang by committing crimes did not support the conclusion that the defendant's offenses were gang related because there was no evidence that any of the gang members presented signs of gang membership or announced their presence, before or after, the offense. (Ibid.) Likewise, there was no evidence of gang members bragging about their involvement in the crimes or creating graffiti to take credit for them. (Ibid.) Thus, the fact of a defendant's gang membership alone could not sustain the inference that a crime committed by that defendant was gang related, despite an expert witness's testimony to the contrary. (Ibid.) In In re Frank S. (2006) 141 Cal.App.4th 1192, an officer detained the minor when he failed to stop at a red traffic light while riding his bicycle. (Id. at p. 1195.) The officer discovered a knife, a bindle of methamphetamine, and a red bandana on the minor. (Ibid.) The People charged minor with carrying a concealed dirk with a corresponding gang enhancement, as well as other charges. (Ibid.) The prosecution's gang expert testified that the minor was a gang member and that the substantive charge was committed to benefit his gang. (Ibid.) She testified that "a gang member would use the knife for protection from rival gang members and to assault rival gangs." (Ibid.) The appellate court reversed the enhancement, finding that "nothing besides weak inferences and hypotheticals show the minor had a gang-related purpose for the knife." (In re Frank S., supra, 141 Cal.App.4th at p. 1199.) "Unlike in other cases, the prosecution presented no evidence other than the expert's opinion regarding gangs in general and the expert's improper opinion on the ultimate issue to establish that possession of the weapon was 'committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with any criminal street gang . . . .' The prosecution did not present any evidence that the minor was in gang territory, had gang members with him, or had any reason to expect to use the knife in a gang-related offense. In fact, the only other evidence was the minor's statement to the arresting officer that he had been jumped two days prior and needed the knife for protection. To allow the expert to state the minor's specific intent for the knife without any other substantial evidence opens the door for prosecutors to enhance many felonies as gang-related and extends the purpose of the statute beyond what the Legislature intended." (Ibid.)