Gang-Related Violence/Gang Enhancements (PC 186.22):
Penal Code 186.22(a) is the crime of participation in a gang and Penal Code 186.22(b) is defined as the gang sentencing enhancement. The second part (b) is an actual sentence enhancement (an addition to the penalty) for anyone who commits a felony for the benefit of the crew. The first part of the law makes it illegal for anyone to participate in a street crew and/or assist in any felony criminal conduct.
California law punishes crew members on a grand scale and much more harshly than those people who have no gang ties; Penal Code 186.22 is part of the “STEP Act” (California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act), which punishes gang members, and those who associate with gang members. In order to be convicted under Penal Code 186.22(a), these three elements of the crime must exist: that you actively participated in a criminal street gang, you know of the gang’s criminal activity and the members engaged in it, and you willfully assisted/promoted felonious criminal conduct by gang members.
Penalties (PC 186.22):
The participation in a criminal street gang (PC 186.22(a)) is a wobbler in California law; the prosecutor decides whether to charge you with a felony or misdemeanor. The maximum sentence you can receive if convicted under 186.22(a) PC is 1 year in county jail and/or fines up to $1,000.
If you are convicted of a felony, you may face 16 months to 2 years in the California State Prison. Penal Code 186.22(b) sets forth the actual California criminal gang sentencing enhancement. Assuming that the prosecutor can prove all the “elements” of the sentencing enhancement, a PC 186.22(b) conviction could mean anywhere from 2 to 15 years, or even 25 years-to-life, in prison.
Legal Defenses (PC 186.22):
Potential legal defenses that can be used against a Penal Code 186.22 PC charge include (but are not limited to): arguing that you did not commit the underlying felony, that you are not an “active participant” in a criminal street gang, that you were not acting for the benefit of the crew, and/or arguing that the gang sentencing enhancement would go against “the interests of justice.”