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Articles Posted in Gang Charges

In earlier blog posts, I discussed the CalGang Database, a database collected and used by law enforcement throughout California. I discussed how this database is kept in secret and many who are included in the database are unaware of their inclusion and worse yet, many who are listed in the database are listed in error.

In a victory for the civil liberties and social justice organizations that pushed for it, a new law was just signed by the governor, to go into effect on January 1, 2018, that is designed to end the secrecy of this database and give those on the database an opportunity to contest inclusion of their name on the database. This is an important piece of legislation because inclusion on this database can have serious consequences and affects the due process rights of those who have been placed on a gang database.

As I previously discussed in earlier blog posts, a person might be put in a gang database for simply being in detained by the police in a certain neighborhood or even put on the database in error. For those later arrested for a crime, being in the database will, in many cases, result in the prosecution alleging gang enhancements, which necessarily carry greater punishments than the underlying crime itself. For undocumented immigrants, being included on a gang database can be cause for their deportation without hearing, even if they are mis-classified on the database.

Beginning in the 1970’s, California police departments started a system of filling out 5- by 7-inch index cards, known as “field cards”, whenever the officer encountered a person suspected of having a gang affiliation. The cards included the person’s name, their “gang moniker”, gang affiliation and other identifying information. Back in those days, the cards were filed in cabinets. Cops still collect field cards but these days, the information is placed in a statewide database called CalGang.

With the passage of the STEP Act in 1988, prosecutors were able to add gang charges and enhances to charges where the conduct was alleged to be gang related. Upon the creation of the CalGang database, law enforcement and prosecutors had a new tool to quickly identify and prosecute gang-related crime. With CalGang, officers in the field are able to instantly determine whether an individual has been identified to have gang ties—no more digging through filing cabinets.

Not surprisingly, law enforcement and prosecutors are enthusiastic users of CalGang: Law enforcement feeds the database, sometimes with dubious information, and prosecutors use it at every opportunity. Today the database has grown to include more than 150,000 names and a recent state audit found that individuals as young as nine-years-old are included in the database. CalGang casts a wide net and sometimes individuals are included in the database simply for being in the wrong area.

CalGang Database Contains Numerous Errors and Incorrect Information

Beginning in the 1970’s, California police departments started a system of filling out 5- by 7-inch index cards, known as “field cards”, whenever the officer encountered a person suspected of having a gang affiliation. The cards included the person’s name, their “gang moniker”, gang affiliation and other identifying information. Back in those days, the cards were filed in cabinets. Cops still collect field cards but these days, the information is placed in a statewide database called CalGang.

With the passage of the STEP Act in 1988, prosecutors were able to add gang charges and enhances to charges where the conduct was alleged to be gang related. Upon the creation of the CalGang database, law enforcement and prosecutors had a new tool to quickly identify and prosecute gang-related crime. With CalGang, officers in the field are able to instantly determine whether an individual has been identified to have gang ties—no more digging through filing cabinets.

WALKING THE GANGPLANK

In 1988, the California Legislature enacted the STEP Act; STEP stands for “Street Terrorism and Enforcement.” This legislation added penalties for participation in a street gang (Penal Code §186.22(a)) and provided for sentencing enhancements [1] (Penal Code 186.22(b)) to a felony conviction that is found to be connected to criminal street gang activity. Since the STEP Act was enacted, committing a crime as a gang member or even just for the “benefit” of a street gang really is like walking the gangplank because the Act can add decades on to a defendant’s prison sentence.

STEP enforcement is law enforcement’s—and by extension the prosecutor’s—own little fiefdom. Once labeled a gang member by law enforcement, always a gang member.

Two unfortunate men standing on a street corner in Santa Ana the other day, were accosted by two suspected gang members who robbed and stabbed them.

According to the victims, a dark SUV pulled up and the passenger said, “where are you from”, a well-known prelude to an attack, called a “hit up”. If the two suspects are caught, they will be facing life in prison for attempted murder, robbery as well as multiple gang enhancements.

The two suspects will need an experienced Orange County criminal defense attorney to assist them in avoiding the worst consequences. Whether the robbery occurred in Tustin, Irvine, Newport Beach, Santa Ana or Westminster, the defendant will need a good Orange County criminal defense lawyer to assist him.

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This week, Santa Ana resident Inocente Secundino Jr. was convicted of special circumstances gang murder of Steven Christopher Arreguin, that may result in a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Secundino and Arreguin were rival Santa Ana gang members and their gangs had gotten into a fight on that day in July of 2006. As Arreguin was turning to run away, Secundino shot him in the back of the head, killing him. Secundino then left the state and was placed on the Santa Ana’s most wanted list. In 2008, officers found Secundino living in Oregon with family members, using a new identity. He was arrested on suspicion of murder, charged and convicted. His sentencing hearing will likely take place next month.

Since Secundino killed a rival gang member, he received a special circumstance enhancement which could qualify him for life in prison without the possibility of parole. Any crime done in furtherance of a gang automatically adds time to your sentence. Whether you live in Garden Grove, Westminster or Fullerton, if you are charged with murder or gang crimes, call an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. Possible defenses to a gang crime include not being a member of a gang or not doing the crime for the benefit of the gang. A possible defense to murder includes the lack of intent to kill or self defense. In this case, since Secundino shot Arreguin in the back of the head, the defense attorney cannot use the defense of self defense.

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After 13-year-old Minh Cong Tran and his family finished eating at a Mexican restaurant in Santa Ana in 2003, they drove away. Jason A. Aguirre, 33, and fellow Dragon Family Junior gang members chased the family into a neighborhood and shot into the car as the family tried to hide. Minh Tran was shot in the heart, liver and shoulder and died soon after the shooting. Other family members in the car were shot, but they all survived. Aguirre fled the scene of the crime and was arrested a few months later. Aguirre was charged with first degree murder with special circumstances of committing the murder for the benefit of the gang. He was sentenced to death last week for his crimes.

This was the fifth death penalty case in Orange County this week. The death penalty can be a punishment only in murder cases that have special circumstances. Murdering for the benefit of a gang is a special circumstance. Other special circumstances include mass murders and felony murders. If you have been charged with murder in Irvine, Santa Ana or Fullerton, you will need an experienced Orange County defense attorney to assist you in the legal process.

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An eighteen-year-old Santa Ana gang member, Eduardo Valencia, is being charged with the murder of Jaime Anica Olvera. Allegedly, Valencia tried to rob Olvera during the evening of July 23. Olvera was struggling to fight back, when a second gang member, Fabian Vargas Vega, pulled out a gun and shot Olvera in the upper body. Olvera died immediately at the scene. Vega was killed by police in a gun battle soon after the incident. Valencia fled the scene of the crime and was found hiding in a relative’s garage on Saturday. He is facing charges of murder, attempted robbery, felony street terrorism charges and a sentencing enhancement for allegedly carrying out the murder for the purpose of his street gang.

A criminal street gang is defined as any organization, association or group of 3 or more persons which has 1) continuity of purpose 2) seeks a group identity, and 3) has members who individually or collectively have engaged in criminal activity. Often times, when a gang member commits a crime for himself, the district attorney will want to say he committed the crime for the benefit of a street gang and slap on additional charges and penalties. A good attorney would try and prove that the defendant did not commit the crime in furtherance of the gang and therefore the gang enhancements should be dropped. There are gangs in Irvine, Garden Grove, Westminster and almost every other city in Orange County. If you are charged with gang crimes, the state of California will be very tough on you and you will need an experienced gang attorney on your side.

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