Felony and violent crimes in Nevada are punishable by law and each one has corresponding penalties. But not many knew that with the State’s Gang Crime Enhancement Law, if it is proven that felony is (knowingly) committed as part of gang activity, the court may impose added years in prison, with a maximum of 20 years.
To know more about Nevada’s law on Gang Crime Enhancement, read this blog and learn what can be considered as a gang crime, how a criminal gang is defined, how gang crime enhancement law works, and its punishment and possible defenses.
Criminal gang defined
The Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) legally defines a criminal gang as an organization that:
- Consists of persons organized formally or informally
- Is designed to continue its operation even if members enter and leave
- Has a common name and/or identifying symbol
- Has a particular signature conduct, status, and customs indicative of it, and
- Has as one of its common activities engaging in criminal activity punishable as a felony, other than the conduct which constitutes the primary offense.
Gang crime defined
As per NRS 193.368, any crime committed knowingly for “the benefit of, at the direction of, or in affiliation with, a criminal gang, with the specific intent to promote, further or assist the activities of the criminal gang” is considered as a gang crime, whether the crime is done by the whole gang, some members of the gang, or one member of the gang.
According to researches and studies funded by the National Institute of Justice, the most common gang crimes in the country are violent crimes, gun crimes, and drug crimes. Researchers found out upon assessing the gun and drug crime problems of a community that these crimes are intertwined with the presence of gangs in the community.
When does gang crime enhancement law apply?
The Nevada gang crime enhancement law applies when a person convicted of a felony is proven to have committed the said felony for the sake and in behalf of the criminal gang he or she belongs to. The Nevada court must, during the trial, would examine the following factors to determine if the convict truly committed a gang crime, or if the organization he or she belongs to shows signs of being a criminal gang:
- Characteristics of persons who are members of criminal gangs;
- Specific rivalries between criminal gangs;
- Common practices and operations of criminal gangs and the members of those gangs;
- Social customs and behavior of members of criminal gangs;
- Terminology used by members of criminal gangs;
- Codes of conduct, including criminal conduct, of particular criminal gangs; and
- The types of crimes that are likely to be committed by a particular criminal gang or by criminal gangs in general.
When a gang crime is proven, that person convicted of a felony shall receive one to 20 prison years in addition to the existing penalties he or she would receive from committing the felony itself. This is why the law is called gang crime “enhancement” law.
Punishments and penalty exceptions
As mentioned before, one to 20 years of prison may be added to a convicted felon’s sentence when the felony he committed is proven and deemed as a gang crime. If you are worried if someone you knew will be spending an extra 20 years in jail, know that the extra years does not have to be 20. Twenty is just the maximum number of allowable additional years, and, if the Nevada criminal defense lawyer hired is competent, the additional years can be reduced to only one year.
The length of the additional penalty depends on the following factors:
- The facts and circumstances of the crime;
- The criminal history of the person;
- The impact of the crime on any victim;
- Any mitigating factors presented by the person; and
- Any other relevant information.
Additionally, the court cannot impose an additional penalty if the felony committed on behalf of a gang if the defendant was already sentenced to additional prison years for committing the felony at a school, with assistance of a child, with a hand-gun containing a metal-penetrating bullet, or by using a deadly weapon. Committing the felony in violation of a protective order in Nevada, against a senior citizen or vulnerable person, as a hate crime, or as an act of terrorism also exempts a defendant from the gang crime enhancement law.
Keeping in mind the factors Nevada courts should consider when deciding the length of the penalty and if the defendant is guilty of gang crime, a defense attorney could use the following defenses to convince the judge and the jury that there is no need for enhanced punishment:
- The defendant may be a member of a gang but he or she did not commit the felony or crime on behalf of the gang he or she belongs to. The defendant committed the act for his or her own purposes, and those purposes are not in any way connected to his or her gang.
- The defendant is not a member of any organization that qualifies as a gang as per the NRS’ legal definition of a gang. The defendant may counter that the organization he or she is a member of is not a gang but is simply a club or an association clear of any negative police record or suspicious activity.
- The defendant did not commit any felony. The gang crime enhancement law only applies if the person in question already has an existing crime he or she is being convicted off.
In a very active place like Nevada, the existence of street gangs and criminal gangs are inevitable. While the state authorities are doing their best to keep civilians safe from gang violence, it is possible for a completely innocent person to get tangled with gang crimes due to certain circumstances and be mistakenly accused of a felony act seemingly connected to any gang crime.