Gang Crimes

Philadelphia Attorneys Handling Gang Crimes

Gang violence is considered to be one of the worst crimes and threats to peace. Gang violence, by its nature, is more brutal and frequently committed than violence of simple passion or greed. Because violent gang members have a high recidivism rate, prosecutors and judges almost always seek the harshest possible penalty. This unforgiving trend towards those accused of gang-related violent crime makes it especially important for the defense team of the accused to work exceptionally hard to protect the rights of their client, guilty or otherwise.

If you are facing any type of gang crime in the Philadelphia or Southern New Jersey areas please contact Criminal Defense Attorneys at the law offices of Erik B. Jensen to discuss your case.

Gang Definitions in Pennsylvania

Before examining the defense possibilities for those accused of gang related violent crimes, it is important to examine how the law and law enforcement define what a gang is and what constitutes membership. A possible argument for your defense may rest on proving their client is not in fact in a gang.

Federal as well as Pennsylvania law, defines a criminal street gang as “an ongoing group, club, organization, or association of five or more persons that has: a) one or more of its primary purposes the commission of one or more criminal offenses; b) the members of which engage, or have engaged, within the past five years, in a continuing series of offenses and; c) the activities of which affect interstate or foreign commerce.

As far as defining gang membership, law enforcement tends to classify people associated with gangs in 5 broad categories based upon age and level of involvement of gang activities. The first category is reserved for children who may know or occasionally associate with gang members on a limited basis and may imitate or admire the older gang members. These youths are generally between the ages of 7 and 9 years old and are considered “at risk” or “peripheral” to gang activity. They are generally not treated as gang members by police or the courts.

Gang associates or affiliates make up the next category, and are made up of primarily children between 9 and 13, but can range from ages 7 to 18. These affiliates may consider themselves members of the gang but have not been formally initiated and are usually not engaged in serious criminal activity outside of serving as lookouts, runners or committing vandalism. While they may talk, walk and act like members of the gang; they tend to drift in and out of gang life. However, law enforcement has been cracking down on gang affiliates as hard as on true gang members in an effort to send a message to other would-be gangsters.

A true gang member has been initiated into his gang and likely associates exclusively with other members of his gang. These gang members form the bulk of a gang’s membership and perpetrate most of the crimes committed by gangs. These gang members are generally between the ages of 14 and 20 years old, although some gangs will initiate children as young as 11. These official gang members are likely more deeply indoctrinated into gang lifestyle than affiliates or peripherals, and are therefore considered much more dangerous.

The next highest rung of gang membership is the “hard core gang member.” These are the veteran gangsters who have been with the gang for many years, possibly even since its founding. They are totally committed to the gang lifestyle, leaving little hope for rehabilitation. These members have committed or are willing to commit any number of heinous crimes in order to advance their organizations objectives.

At the top of the gang member food chain is the gang leader. Gang leaders are the ones operating behind the scenes to plan or direct criminal activity. These members also tend to maintain a low profile and often have the shortest criminal records as they did not directly perpetrate the crimes and were shielded from prosecution by loyal, lower-ranking members.

Gang Crime Defense Strategies

When defending a client who is charged with a gang-related offense, a defense team will follow one or more of a few main strategies for protecting the accused. Assuming that a dismissal based on police procedure in the investigation or arrest of the accused is not a possibility; the first line of defense will be to cast doubt on evidence or witnesses identifying the accused as the perpetrator. This is especially effective when the prosecution’s case depends heavily on eyewitness testimony, where an actual human can be questioned and discredited, either by fully discrediting the witness’s reliability, or by proving that identification of the perpetrator would be impossible based on circumstance. Most gangs are racially homogeneous and tend towards uniform dress, lending to a strong mistaken identity defense.

Should the evidence prove culpability on the part of the accused, the next line of defense would be to limit or deny the affiliation of the accused with a gang in an effort to minimize the potential penalty. Without direct testimony from other gang members the prosecution will have difficulty proving any direct involvement with gang. Both gang peripherals and gang associates are generally not treated as true gang members in the courts, and therefore generally receive lesser penalties, depending on the severity of the crime.

If you or your loved ones ever find themselves accused of gang-related violent crime, finding an aggressive legal defense team is of paramount importance as the accused is facing the harshest possible penalties for the crime committed. It is a miscarriage of justice to hold a single individual responsible for the acts of many, and the trend towards “making an example” of youths who get involved with gang activity is wrong. Choosing the right criminal defense attorney can spare you decades in prison, or even find ways to keep you from behind bars at all.

Please contact Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers at the Law Offices of Erik B. Jensen, P.C. to discuss your case. We offer free consultations to those facing criminal charges of all types in the Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey areas.