Know Your Rights

Our Know Your Rights section is designed and dedicated to sharing the laws for persons caught in the violent throws of gang life, so that they might learn of the possible legal consequences for their actions.

If you are caught up in the cycle of violence and wish to make a positive change in your life and for your neighborhood please don’t hesitate to give us a call.

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Conviction for certain criminal offenses can lead to other consequences besides possible imprisonment. Many people in our community are recent immigrants to the United States. They may have a green card entitling them to live permanently in the United States, or they may be undocumented and have no formal permission to reside here.

If you are among such a class of persons, and do not have citizenship based on being born in this country or because you became naturalized, then you should know that a conviction of any serious or violent felony might result in your deportation.  Certain crimes such as drug possession or trafficking, domestic violence, and any crime involving the possession or use of a firearm are also considered deportable crimes and, if you are arrested by the Immigration Services, can make you be classified as an “aggravated felon,” without the right to bail or other discretionary relief that might otherwise allow you to remain here.

Although immigration laws are complicated and confusing, suffice to say that if you commit any of the above offenses, you may be deported from this country and be permanently prohibited from legally returning.  If you are released on probation or parole, and deported directly to your home country, you may never come back because deportation suspends probation or parole because you are considered to be a fugitive, and if you return to the United States illegally, it is considered a violation and you are liable to be rearrested and, deported again on the original order without any hearing before a judge.


In the early 80’s gang violence rose sharply, causing a huge public outcry and demands for a crackdown on crimes and violence.  One of the first impacts was a law prohibited probation on any offense in which a gun was used, even if it was not fired.  As a result, if you are convicted of a crime involving the use of a firearm, you will get state prison, and a term of 3, 4, or 10 years will be added to your total sentence, to be served consecutive to any other term.  If convicted of attempted murder or murder, the court can add up to 10, 20 or life on your base sentence.  In other words, if you try to kill someone with a gun whether successful or not, you can be sentenced to two consecutive life terms if convicted.


If you go along on a drive-by, and don’t do anything other than drive the car or just sit there or help be a lookout, you can be convicted of the same crime as the person who pulls the trigger, even if you never touch the gun.  The law holds two or more people that collaborate or cooperate with each other in the commission of a crime as equally guilty, even if only one commits the acts that complete the crime.

For example, if you and a friend drive to a store with the purpose of robbing the store, and you sit out in the car while your friend goes inside with a gun, and while inside he shoots and kills the store clerk then runs out and gets in the car and the two of you drive away, you are just as guilty of both robbery and murder as he is, even if you never get out of the car or touch the gun.  Indeed, the commission of such a crime would make you eligible for the death penalty.


With the rise of gang crimes, the State of California passed new laws to reduce the amount of crime, harassment, and intimidation caused by gang members.  To do so, they added sentencing provisions that add more time to sentences for a felony conviction where the crime was committed by someone who belongs to a “criminal street gang.”  Certain gangs have been identified as having had members who were convicted previously of serious of violent offenses, and if you belong to any of these gangs, or the police believe you belong to one and can substantiate their beliefs, then you can have 2, 3, or 4 years added to a sentence for felony conviction, to be served consecutive to the base term, that is, after you complete the sentence for the crime you were convicted of.  In fact, if the crime you are convicted of is a serious or violent felony, then you can actually be sentenced to an additional term of life in prison, with a minimum sentence of 7 to 15 years for certain offenses, before you are eligible for parole.


In the past, criminal offenses committed by juveniles under the age of 18 were handled in Juvenile Courts, where the purpose of the court treatment was to counsel or rehabilitate the minor so that they would see the error of their ways and begin to walk a straight line.  In other words, it accepted the notion that young people are sometimes driven to do criminal acts because of the influence of their friends, or because they are simply too immature to use good judgment in their decisions or to understand the gravity of their acts.

All that has changed.  The Juvenile Courts are now more punitive in their approach. With certain crimes , the serious and violent offenses, the Juvenile Court has always had the discretion to pass those cases along to the adult court system, even with minors as young as 14 if they are accused of murder or attempted murder.  But, two years ago a law was passed allowing the District Attorney who prosecutes these cases to decide if they should charge a minor as an adult without even having a hearing before a Judge.

Consequently, anytime a minor commits a serious or violent offense, its more likely than not that they will be charged as an adult.  If convicted, they will be sentenced as an adult, even to life terms.  No longer can a young person count on being treated within the juvenile system where they have to be released by the age of 25.  Now, a young person convicted of murder can count on serving a minimum of 25 years, and possibly all their lives.  The prospect of a young person 16 years of age committing a crime which will cause the, to live all their natural lives in prison is very real.


Even though laws were previously on the books that increased penalties for persons that had previously committed serious or violent offenses, or had just gotten out of prison and committed another crime, inn the early 90’s the passed a law providing for seriously increased sentences for repeat offenders.

So, if you have been previously convicted of a serious or violent offense and you are convicted of anew felony, regardless of whether it is a serious or violent felony, then your sentence will be double the base term.  In other words, if the sentence is 3, 4, or 5 years, it will be 6, 8, or 10 years, and you have to serve 85% of the sentence before being paroled.

If you have been previously convicted of a serious of violent offense and you are now convicted of two more felonies, regardless of whether they are serious or violent offenses, then your sentence can be a minimum of 25 years to life, of which you have to serve 85% before being paroled.

Serious of violent offenses are described in the laws, but they include such crimes as robbery, residential burglary, rape, kidnapping, assault with a firearm, attempted murder, and murder.  Once convicted of such an offense, some people have received these sentences for relatively minor felonies, such as possession of small amounts of narcotics or petty theft with a prior.  Although the Court has some discretion to strike a prior felony, a bad or lengthy record may result in the Court denying you a break, depending on how recent or serious your felony record is, and the offense for which you are currently charged.

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Legal counsel provided by Jorge Gonzalez, Attorney at Law.