The Changing Face of Gang Activity
According to recent reports, gang activity is changing significantly. What was once dominated by street crimes and drug offenses is now characterized by credit card fraud and Western Union scams. Florida leads the country in identity theft complaints, and law enforcement agents attribute a substantial percentage of these crimes to gang activities.
As reported in Mercury News, a Florida task force recently instituted charges against more than 400 people, with accusations that they collectively caused more than $140 million in financial damages. Many of those arrested were reportedly gang members, acting to promote the interests of their gang. Bill Maddalena is the assistant special agent in charge of the white-collar branch of the Miami FBI office. He is quoted in the article as stating, “It’s an organized crime — but not “Organized Crime.” They’re very well organized. They have to recruit people to help steal devices, cash the checks.”
What is a Gang?
When classifying an accused party as a gang member, the state uses a set of statutory criteria to make the determination.
Under Florida law, a criminal gangs is defined as:
- A formal or informal ongoing organization, association or group with three or more people;
- With crime or delinquent acts as its primary activity; and
- That identifies by a common identifying sign, color or symbol.
In Florida, law enforcement may classify you as a gang associate if you meet any single characteristic of a gang. The gang membership classification means that you meet a least two of the characteristics.
“Criminal gang activity” is defined in the Florida code as:
- Activity that is committed to benefit or further a criminal gang’s interest;
- Activity done to promote an individual’s position within a gang;
- Activity where individual participants are identified members or associates working to further the gang’s interests; and/or
- Activity that a reliable informant identifies as gang activity
These determinations can sometimes turn on subjective standards. With the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer, you may be able to successfully rebut the state’s conclusions.
Gang convictions can result in a variety of penalties, depending on the details of the crime. A convicted party will first face penalties for the underlying crime committed. In addition, gang-related convictions are treated as enhancements, meaning that the underlying penalty is increased. There are two general purposes for this tactic:
- Enhancements deter future affiliation with gangs and gang-related activities.
- Longer sentences keep convicted parties incarcerated and away from the public for longer periods of time.
Some experts assert that changes in gang activity results in fewer “turf wars,” or head-to-head violent confrontations for criminal enterprises and physical territories. The activity is essentially less violent, with decreased killings and physical injury to individuals. This raises questions about the appropriateness of increasing white collar penalties with gang-related enhancements.
If you are facing gang-related charges in a Florida court, contact the Miami lawyers Ratzan & Faccidomo, LLC at (305) 330-3905 for a free and confidential consultation. Our experienced lawyers have the knowledge and ability to provide you with the aggressive defense your case deserves.