Proving a Gang Related Crime in California

In People v. Albarran (2007) 149 Cal.App.4th 214, the defendant was charged with multiple offenses based on his participation in a shooting at the victim's home; it was alleged that the crimes were committed for the benefit of a criminal street gang. (Albarran, supra, 149 Cal.App.4th at pp. 217-220.) The prosecution did not have any percipient witnesses to prove the crime was gang related or motivated. The trial court permitted the prosecution to introduce gang evidence to prove defendant's motive and intent. After the jury convicted the defendant of the substantive offenses and found the gang enhancements were true, the trial court granted a motion to dismiss the gang allegations for insufficient evidence, but it denied a new trial motion on the substantive offenses. (Id. at pp. 218-220.) The Court of Appeal held that while the trial court may have found that defendant's gang activities were relevant and probative to his motive and intent, the court abused its discretion when it permitted the prosecution to introduce additional gang evidence that was completely irrelevant to defendant's motive or the substantive criminal charges. (Albarran, supra, 149 Cal.App.4th at p. 217.) The irrelevant evidence included other gang members' threats to kill police officers, descriptions of crimes committed by other gang members and references to the Mexican Mafia prison gang. The appellate court characterized the irrelevant gang evidence as "extremely and uniquely inflammatory, such that the prejudice arising from the jury's exposure to it could only have served to cloud their resolution of the issues." (Id. at p. 230.) The appellate court also classified this evidence as "overkill," and said it was "troubled" by the trial court's failure to scrutinize the potential prejudice of the gang offense on the substantive charges. (Id. at p. 228.) Finding the irrelevant and prejudicial gang evidence was so inflammatory that it "had no legitimate purpose in this trial," the appellate court concluded admission of that evidence violated defendant's due process rights. (Id. at pp. 230-231.)