Proving Gang Participation Charge In California

Gang activity charge special circumstance in California: In People v. Williams (2008) 167 Cal.App.4th 983, the defendant was convicted of murder and active participation in a criminal street gang. On appeal, he challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support the jury's finding on the gang activity special circumstance and the active participation charge. Appellant argued that the group relevant to this determination was the Small Town Peckerwoods and not other groups calling themselves Peckerwoods or some overall Peckerwood gang. The court addressed the relationship that must exist before a smaller group can be considered part of a larger group for purposes of determining whether the smaller group constitutes a criminal street gang. the expert had testified "that the Peckerwoods are a criminal street gang, as defined by the Penal Code, and that smaller groups, such as the Small Town Peckerwoods, are all factions of the Peckerwood organization." (Id. at p. 987.) The court observed that the expert's conclusion "appears to have been based on commonality of name and ideology, rather than concerted activity or organizational structure. He testified that Peckerwood groups share a White pride or White supremacist ideology, and there is a hierarchy, with 'shot callers' who answer to a higher authority inside the prison system. It was the expert's further testimony that Peckerwoods are not typically organized like other criminal street gangs, however: for the most part, they have no constitution, and are a looser organization with a less well-defined rank structure. Peckerwood groups get together more for bragging than for strategizing, and one group of Peckerwoods will not necessarily know what another group is doing." (Id. at pp. 987-988.) The Williams court said that "something more than a shared ideology or philosophy, or a name that contains the same word, must be shown before multiple units can be treated as a whole when determining whether a group constitutes a criminal street gang. Instead, some sort of collaborative activities or collective organizational structure must be inferable from the evidence, so that the various groups reasonably can be viewed as parts of the same overall organization." (Id. at p. 988.)