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NCJ Number: 200571 Find in a Library
Title: Antigang Legislation and Its Potential Impact: The Promises and the Pitfalls
Journal: Criminal Justice Policy Review  Volume:14  Issue:2  Dated:June 2003  Pages:171-192
Author(s): Beth Bjerregaard
Date Published: June 2003
Page Count: 22
Type: Legislation/Policy Analysis
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: After examining State laws that have made participation in gang activities a substantive crime, the effectiveness of such laws and their potential for abuse are discussed, and recommendations are offered for improving these laws.
Abstract: One of the most comprehensive legislative approaches designed to suppress gang activity is the California Street Terrorism and Enforcement Prevention Act (STEP), which makes it a criminal offense to engage in criminal gang activity. Numerous States have followed California's lead and enacted similar statutes. Most of these statutes are patterned after the California STEP Act and share several common features. To convict someone under these statutes, the State must prove a number of elements. First, they must demonstrate the existence of a criminal street gang. Once the State has proven the existence of a criminal street gang, they must demonstrate that the defendant had knowledge that the gang members engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal activity and that he/she had the specific intent to promote, further, or assist the criminal conduct of the gang. Finally, the State must show that the defendant is a member of that gang. Such laws are intended to provide law enforcement with an additional tool for arresting and prosecuting gang members as well as for deterring involvement in gang-related activities. It is unclear whether such legislation has been or will be an effective tool to address gang-related problems. The statutes present a variety of issues that must be addressed to enhance their effectiveness and reduce the chance that the laws will be used inappropriately. First, there should not be a focus on the social ties of the individual or on his/her area of residence. Although both of these factors may be related to gang membership, they should not be determinative in defining an individual as a gang member. Also, there should be a tempered focus on the juvenile's attire. Sole reliance on basic attire is not an acceptable criteria for an arrest and prosecution. Definitions included in legislation should focus on hardcore, committed gang members. Additionally, laws should target groups with clear criminal agendas. Definitions of gang members should include only individuals who are actively and not peripherally involved in the gangs. Ensuring that the statute requires specific intent helps to ensure that only blameworthy individuals are targeted by the legislation. In enumerating a number of indicators of gang involvement, statutes should require that at least three of the criteria be met by an individual before there is an arrest and prosecution. Clothing and area of residence should not identify someone as a gang member. Overall, such laws should be carefully crafted to ensure they are not used to harass minority youth in minority neighborhoods whether or not they have a criminal involvement in street gangs committed to criminal activity. 2 notes and 67 references
Main Term(s): Domestic Preparedness
Index Term(s): California; Gang Prevention; Gang violence; Gangs; Juvenile gang behavior patterns; State laws
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