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The Office of the District Attorney is dedicated to removing the most dangerous gang members from our streets and neighborhoods. Gang members are responsible for a large percentage of crimes in our community. The primary purpose of gang membership is to commit crimes.
The Gang Unit specializes in the vertical prosecution of serious and violent felonies committed by documented gang members. When a gang member commits a crime or parole violation, a deputy district attorney familiar with that gang member’s background and prior criminal history is assigned to prosecute the case from filing to sentencing. Over half of the homicides in Orange County are committed by gang members.
Additionally, the Tri-Agency Resource/Gang Enforcement Team (TARGET) is a program that teams up police officers, probation officers, and prosecutors and stations them together in police departments throughout the county. The TARGET concept is a highly specialized team approach focusing on the most hardcore, violent, repeat gang offenders who possess leadership positions in criminal street gangs. The goal of TARGET is to incapacitate these hardcore gang members before they can commit further violent acts against society.
The TARGET Unit reviews and prosecutes all crimes (from misdemeanors to murders) committed by gang members targeted by the various TARGET teams located throughout the county. A typical TARGET deputy district attorney’s caseload may include murders, attempted murders, robberies, car jackings, felony assaults, narcotics sales, and illegal possession of firearms.
Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention (STEP) Act
The Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention (STEP) Act was enacted in 1988 by the California legislature with the stated intent “to seek the eradication of criminal activity by street gangs by focusing upon patterns of criminal gang activity and upon the organized nature of street gangs.” The STEP Act was amended by the electorate (Proposition 21) in 2000.
The STEP Act encompasses substantive charges of violations of the Penal Code, as well as special allegations which subject gang members who commit crimes to additional punishment. According to Section 186.22 (a) of the Penal Code, “Any person who actively participates in any criminal street gang with knowledge that its members engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity, and who willfully promotes, furthers, or assists in any felonious criminal conduct by members of that gang” will be punished, not only for the underlying felony committed but also with up to three additional years in state prison.
A “criminal street gang” is defined as any ongoing organization, association, or group of three or more persons having as one of its primary activities the commission of one or more of the twenty five enumerated crimes, having a common name, and whose members engage in a pattern of criminal gang activity.
The STEP Act defines “pattern of criminal gang activity” as the commission of two or more of a list of 25 enumerated crimes, including murder, robbery, shooting from a vehicle, burglary, kidnapping, rape, arson, felony vandalism, gun possessions, and making criminal threats.
The special allegation, defined in Section 186.22 (b) of the Penal Code, enhances the penalty by an additional two years or up to an additional 10 years, depending on whether the underlying felony conviction is a serious or violent crime. This allegation applies if the person committed the felony “for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with any criminal street gang, with the specific intent to promote, further, or assist in any criminal conduct by gang members.”
In addition, if the special allegation defined in Section 186.22 (b) is found to be true, and any one of the charged gang members personally uses a firearm in the commission of certain felonies, including robbery, carjacking, attempted murder, and murder, then all of his accomplices, although unarmed, are vicariously liable for the use of the gun and each will be sentenced to an additional and consecutive term of 10 years, 20 years, or 25 years to life in state prison. If the gun is merely displayed, the penalty is an additional ten years. If the gun is discharged, then the penalty is an additional 20 years. If the gun is discharged and someone is seriously injured or killed, then an additional 25 years to life is added to the sentence of each gang member, over and above the penalty imposed for the underlying felony conviction.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office extensively uses the STEP Act to aggressively prosecute gang members and seek the stiffest penalties possible. During 2007, over a thousand gang members were prosecuted and over 80% of these gang members were also charged with STEP Act allegations or enhancements, significantly increasing their time behind bars. The Office has an impressive 93% conviction rate in gang cases and 21 gang members were sentenced to life in prison last year.