Some criminal charges are fairly straightforward. Others are surprisingly complex. On face, it may seem that if an individual commits a crime, he or she will simply be tried and possibly sentenced for whatever that crime may be. However, the judicial system has evolved over the years in ways that make it frequently confusing.
For example, if an individual is classified by law enforcement as affiliated with a gang, that very association may be attached to certain crimes. Once attached, that association can lead prosecutors to pursue different charges or it can lead to harsher punishments attached to the original charges.
What about the First Amendment?
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides that the right of free association is a protected one. Therefore, treating gang affiliation like a crime would be unconstitutional, right? For better and for worse, the reality is more complex than that.
Rarely is gang membership treated as illegal per se. Complex laws may allow for such treatment, but it is rare. More often, gang affiliation is used as an excuse for sentencing enhancement. This means that individuals connected with gang activity can be more harshly punished for certain criminal acts.
Law enforcement and prosecutors use a variety of techniques in order to determine who is affiliated with gang activity. However, these professionals do not always draw correct or legally sound conclusions. Therefore, it is important for anyone who is suspected of criminal activity and gang affiliation to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney. That attorney may be able to provide valuable guidance, whether an accused person is truly affiliated with gang activity or not.