Long Beach Criminal Defense Attorney

Practice Areas

Long Beach Criminal Defense Attorney

Gang Cases

Defending clients charged with gang allegations is one of the greatest challenges a criminal defense attorney faces. California law severely punishes crimes that are committed in association with an alleged criminal street gang. Long Beach criminal lawyer Matthew Kaestner has fought gang allegations since they were first enacted in 1988. Attorney Kaestner has become an expert in defending clients charged with gang related crimes. He has had gang allegations dismissed before and during trial. Long Beach's criminal law specialist, attorney Mr. Kaestner has the skill and knowledge to win gang cases. He will take your call directly at (562) 437-0200.

The following is a brief summary of the gang law in California. Included are maneuvers that can be employed by an experienced criminal lawyer to defend a person charged with a gang case or a gang allegation.

California's gang law can be found at Penal Code section 186.22. The law defines a criminal street gang as "any ongoing organization, association, or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal, having as one of its primary activities the commission of one or more of the criminal acts [some 28 specified felonies listed in 186.22(e)], having a common name or common identifying sign or symbol, and whose members individually or collectively engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity."

Penal Code section 186.22(a) makes it a crime simply to participate "in any criminal street gang with knowledge that its members engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity, and who willfully promotes, furthers, or assists in any felonious criminal conduct by members of that gang..." This charge is rarely brought by prosecutors but can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor.

On the other hand, prosecutors frequently charge what is called a "gang enhancement" or "gang allegation" to enhance other serious crimes. Penal Code section 186.22(b) is the gang enhancement law. This enhancement can add time to the maximum penalty for felonies "committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with any criminal street gang, with the specific intent to promote, further, or assist in any criminal conduct by gang members..."

The gang enhancement can be added to crimes by persons who are not even gang members if they commit a crime in conjunction with or to benefit other gang members. The gang enhancement can add 5 or 10 years to some felonies or make other felonies that don't otherwise carry a life sentence, carry a life sentence.

The real impact of a gang enhancment, however, isn't the increased penalties associated with the allegation. Rather, gang cases are difficult to defend because the charging of a gang enhancement allows the prosecution to present "gang evidence" from a "gang expert." The "gang expert" is normally just a police officer who has worked a gang beat. These witnesses will typically tell a jury that gang members are all the same and are out to deal drugs, rob and kill. A prosecutor will use the cop's concept of the gang and gang members to overwhelm the jury with fear. The government uses this law enforcement model of the gang to to explain why witnesses have changed their story, are reluctant to testify, and, in short, why the jury should convict the accused gang member.

Under the guise of supplying so called "expert" gang testimony, police gang experts will say almost anything to prejudice a jury against an accused gang member. The following is actual testimony from a Long Beach police officer at a gang murder trial in Long Beach.

  1. "A gang is one or three people, approximately three people, who congregate together, or who are represented by gang attire or symbols that are there to terrify the citizens...The main goal is the more crimes they commit and worse crimes that other people know of them have committed, the hierarchy in the gang area that they are looked upon." [Yes, that's really what he said.]
  2. "My opinion would be that they [the men on trial] are hardcore gang members...[they] are individuals who I explained earlier about putting in work and doing crimes for their gang itself."
  3. "Whoever had this article kept it as a trophy, and most likely did kill him..." [A newspaper article about an unrelated murder was found in the defendant's room. There was no actual evidence that the defendant had anything to do with the unrelated murder in a newspaper article that was found in his room.]
  4. "You knew both [defendants] to be hardcore east side Longo gang members? A: Yes.
  5. "I have information that links him [the accused] to a double homicide." [There was no actual evidence that the accused was involved with any other double murder.]
  6. Q: "All gang members that you know in fact commit robberies and home invasion robberies and arson and murder?
    A: "The majority, yes." [No statistics or actual evidence supports this claim.]

The trial lawyer in the above Long Beach gang case, not attorney Kaestner, who defended this alleged gang member, failed to object to this obviously improper testimony. The lawyer failed to object to this testimony or make any pre-trial motions to limit or exclude what turned into an improper smear campaign. An attorney, expert in handling gang cases, will make every effort to limit gang testimony and, most importantly, cross-examine the "expert" to show that he is unqualified and bases his opinions on speculation and not fact.

The above gang testimony played a major part in the wrongful conviction of the accused gang member, even though he was innocent of involvement in the murder. Long Beach criminal attorney Matthew Kaestner spent over three years to earn this man a new trial. [People v. Herrera, Long Beach Case no. NA040331 (Read more.)]

A criminal attorney trained in dealing with gang cases can make successful attacks on gang allegations. Long Beach criminal attorney Matthew Kaestner commences the attack on a gang allegation from the very beginning of the case. An aggressive defense counsel can demand that the prosecution provide all of their so called "gang evidence" about all of the involved parties: witnesses, victims, and defendants. The credentials of the police "gang expert" can be acquired along with the expert's previous testimony about the gang. Gang experts do say the craziest things and most of the time, get away with it.

During the preliminary hearing the gang witness' lack of actual expertise and knowledge can be exposed. The testimony from the preliminary hearing can then be used at trial to do damage to the prosecution's case. Also at trial, legal motions can be brought by the defense to limit the gang witness' testimony. When motions are correctly made, the sort of prejudicial testimony as shown above can be kept from improperly being admitted before the jury. A properly prepared and executed cross-examination of the gang witness can greatly damage the prosecution's case.

Long Beach criminal attorney, Matthew Kaestner, has handled gang cases for over 30 years. He regularly defends clients accused of gang crimes. He has built a reputation of aggressively and expertly defending his clients that are accused of gang crimes. He has successfully had gang allegations dismissed at the preliminary hearing level, the pre-trial level and at trial. Mr. Kaestner will personally take your call and give straight answers to any questions. If you or a loved one is accused of a gang crime call attorney Kaestner directly at (562) 437-0200.