Criminal Gang Activity - California Penal Code PC 186.22

Posted by Raoul Severo | Nov 30, 2020 | 0 Comments

In general terms, a “gang” is a term used to describe a group of associates, friends, or even family members with a defined leadership system that identifies with or claims control over territory in a community. The members also engage in violent criminal and non-political acts against civilians or members of another gang. 

In California, gang violence is widespread, dangerous, and deadly in many communities. In fact, there were over 16,000 verified gang-related reports in Los Angeles alone. With that said, California Penal Code PC 186.22 is a lengthy and detailed statute that was established specifically to combat criminal gang activity. 

Under the law, the legal definition of a “gang” is included, which states that an entity is considered as such if:

  • The group is composed of more than 3 persons;
  • The members identify under a name, mark, or symbol; and
  • The members collectively commit a wide variety of crimes.

In addition, anyone who actively participates in a gang-related crime, whether directly or indirectly, will be prosecuted under PC 186.22. There can be many questions raised as to what constitutes “active participation”, that is why the penal code is divided into two parts:

  • California Penal Code PC 186.22(a): Elaborates that an individual does not have to be a gang member to be convicted of criminal gang activity. If you wilfully help the group accomplish an act, knowing that the act is a crime, you are violating the law. For this, you will be called a gang “associate” where you will be penalized for the crime that took place as well as for assisting the criminal conduct of the gang members.
  • California Penal Code PC 186.22(b): This part of the law is basically just a sentence enhancement for gang associates who commit a felony for the benefit of the gang. You can be prosecuted even if you are not a member of the group or even if you are not directly responsible for committing the felony. 

In other words, California's penalties are much harsher to gang associates than actual members of the gang. There is more to this law than we can possibly cover in this article. So, should you wish to know more or raise questions, we highly recommend seeking a skilled and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney.


With so many exemptions and conditions in California's criminal gang participation law, it's difficult for an ordinary citizen to know where the line is drawn between an innocent act and a criminal gang activity. For you to better understand, we have listed a few scenarios that violate this statute. Take a look at the list below:

  • Your area is infested with many gangs who spark a riot every now and then. Curious by the violent acts, your younger brother decides to join one. The leader of the gang then instructs him to do a series of crimes which he will need to accomplish in a week to be an official member of the group. His last task involved beating up a former gang member with brass knuckles that another member provided for him. He did exactly that and he was welcomed as the new member of the gang. 
  • A young man is out with his friends on a Saturday night. His friends are all affiliated with the gang “Swazzis” except him. One of his buddies spot a beautiful luxurious car and expressed that he, together with his fellow gangsters, should steal it. The young man is not a member of the gang but still volunteers to look out while his buddies perform the crime.
  • You are a former gang member who pledged to maintain a friendly relationship with the group even if you no longer participate in it. One day, however, most of the gang members appear at your doorstep asking if they could use your spare basement to lock up a member of a rival gang. Without hesitation, you let them inside and help them by providing all the tools they need as they torture their victim inside your home.

Related Offenses

A criminal gang activity always involves one or two other crimes. The list of crimes which can classify a team as a gang is long, but it includes common offenses such as:

  • Assault and battery;
  • Robbery or burglary;
  • Homicide or manslaughter;
  • Transportation, sale, or manufacture of illegal drugs;
  • Drive-by shootings;
  • Felonious vandalism;
  • Arson;
  • Murder;
  • Kidnapping;
  • Rape;
  • Torture;
  • Grand theft auto;
  • Illegal possession of firearms;
  • Counterfeiting;
  • Carjacking;
  • Looting;
  • Mayhem; and
  • Public nuisance.

Penalties for Criminal Gang Activities

As mentioned before, gang-related crimes are never single-offenses. If you commit murder to fulfill a gang mission, you will face the penalties of the murder and also the penalties stated under this law. Furthermore, the degree of your punishment will also vary depending on the circumstances of your case.

If you violated California Penal Code PC 186.22(a), you can either be convicted for a felony or a misdemeanor offense.

  • A misdemeanor offense involves up to 1 year county jail sentence
  • A felony offense involves 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in state prison

Meanwhile, if you violated California Penal Code PC 186.22(b), turns any underlying misdemeanor offense into a felony that is punishable by 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in prison. However, if the underlying offense is a felony, you may face either of the following:

  • 2, 3, or 4 years in state prison;
  • Not more than 5 years in state prison;
  • Not more than 10 years in state prison; or
  • A life sentence.

The facts of your case will determine which package will be sentenced to you.

Get a Criminal Defense Lawyer Now

Facing a criminal gang activity charge is as complicated as it gets -- even the courts differ in the enforcement of the law. Furthermore, it is difficult to challenge a charge that is related to California's Street Terrorism Enforcement Prevention Act (STEP) as it is initiated specifically to impose harsher punishments on gang-related crimes. Therefore, it is essential that you immediately speak to a criminal defense attorney so you can discuss and plan strong defenses and strategies for your case.

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