The Importance of Avoiding Gang Crime Penalties in Florida
On a late August night, around twelve o’clock in the morning, police officers were called to a Miami home where six people had been shot in an apparent drive-by shooting. Two of those individuals died from injuries and friends and family point out that all six of the friends were sadly gathered at the house after attending the wake of another friend.
The subsequent silence of witnesses and victims alike indicates that this shooting is gang related and the authorities are investigating it as such. That being said, not all crimes that appear to be gang related are, and if you are charged with an offense linked to gang activity, you will be facing enhanced penalties from prosecutors.
Florida Gang Activity is Broadly Defined
Pursuant to Florida law, a criminal gang is described as a formal or informal ongoing organization or group whose primary activity includes criminal or delinquent acts. In elaborating on what an organization or group is, the statute provides that such a group or gang will be characterized by having three or more members associated with a common name or identifying signage through colors or symbols. Terrorist organizations and hate groups are also considered criminal gangs.
To be considered a member of a criminal gang, prosecutors must establish that you meet at least two qualifying factors, including adopting hand signals, wearing certain colors, having symbolic tattoos or are otherwise connected to gang activity through physical evidence.
Gang Crimes are Treated with Enhanced Penalties
Gang related offenses bring enhanced penalties under the Florida Penal Code. The law requires that prosecutors may enhance the punishment for crimes if they prove that the defendant committed the acts to further the interest of a criminal gang; penalties may be enhanced in the following manner:
- A second degree misdemeanor may be punished as a first degree misdemeanor
- A first degree misdemeanor may be punished as a third degree felony
- A third degree felony may be punished as a second degree felony
- A second degree felony may be punished as a first degree felony
- A first degree felony may be punished as a life felony
The difference between a second degree misdemeanor and a first degree misdemeanor may not seem like a serious consequence, but a first degree felony conviction versus a life felony conviction can mean the difference between spending the rest of your life in prison or getting out after 30 years.
Criminal Defense Attorneys Fight Prosecutorial Aggression
Prosecutors often try to obtain the most serious charges possible when they go after suspects for crimes. Unfortunately, this can mean that they may work to prosecute an act as being gang related even if it was not committed to further the purpose of an organized criminal gang. If you or someone you know is facing enhanced penalties due to suspected organized gang crime activities, you need an experienced Florida criminal defense attorney. Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A., has over 42 years of experience defending serious charges related to weapons, drugs and violent crimes.