Gang-related crimes carry a high potential for harsh prosecution and severe penalties.
The courts may impose separate, consecutive penalties for gang-related crimes under multiple statutes.
If possible, establish the defendant is not associated with a gang within the legal definition of the term. Also, the defendant might not be a member of the gang but only a “peripheral” or “at-risk” presence.
It may be possible to show that the police acted improperly in the investigation or the arrest, or that eyewitnesses are unreliable. Mistaken identity may be a useful defense in gang-related crimes since gang members tend to be of the same race and dress similarly.
Pennsylvania and other states add a “sentence enhancement” to prison terms for violent crimes directed by a “criminal gang” or benefiting, promoting, or furthering the interests of a gang.
In addition to imposing punishment for the crime, state and federal laws can also make it a crime for a gang member to have committed the crime.
Federal courts may try gang-related crimes, as in cases of large-scale drug trafficking or to ensure a longer sentence. Federal prosecutors are well-funded, penalties are harsher, and there is no parole from federal convictions.
Additionally, the U.S. Department of Justice can prosecute in federal court using racketeering statutes. RICO, which punishes furthering a criminal enterprise, and VICAR, which applies when a gang member commits a violent crime to advance in the gang, can add significant prison time.
Due to the multiple levels of penalties, removing a crime from classification as “gang-related” may prevent the most severe consequences.