Addressing gang related crime
Even to a casual observer of California's crime problems, it would seem obvious that gang activity is a major issue on the streets and most notably in the prison system. The problem was recognized in the late 1980's, when California's state legislature declared that a state of crisis had been caused by violent street gangs whose members had threatened, terrorized, and committed a multitude of crimes against the peaceful citizens of their neighborhoods.
As an attempt to provide a solution for this situation, they enacted legislation entitled the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act and commonly called the STEP Act. Since its enactment, California courts have adopted a broad interpretation of the Act, applying it to all gang activity, whether violent or nonviolent.
A twofold approach
At the heart of the STEP Act (Pen. Code, § 186.22 PC) are two laws that were specifically drafted to be employed in the prosecution of any offense considered to be gang related.
The first section defines "Active Participation in Criminal Street Gang". Pen. Code, § 186.22(a) makes it a crime to actively participate in a criminal street gang and to assist or promote felonious activity engaged in by gang members. It provides a unitary definition of a "criminal street gang" and establishes a list of "predicate crimes".
The second section deals with a "Felony or Misdemeanor Committed for Benefit of Criminal Street Gang". This section provides for enhancements to a defendant's sentence based not only on their own actions but also on the actions of persons classified as part of the defendants' street gang.
It provides that anyone who participates in a felony or misdemeanor for the benefit of a gang will be mandatorily sentenced to prison in addition to the penalty/sentence that will be assigned by the underlying offense.
Depending on the nature and circumstances of the offense, a conviction on Penal Code 186.22(b) PC could mean an additional two to fifteen years, or as much as twenty five years to life, in prison.