Criminal street gangs are groups or organizations of individuals whose main purpose is to commit one or several criminal offenses. If the majority of the members of the group are minors, a gang may be classified as a youth gang.
Each state defines what a gang is somewhat differently. The legal definition of a street gang, however, typically includes the following characteristics:
- A commonly shared group name or title;
- A commonly shared style of dress that helps to identify the members of the group;
- Association at a specific geographic location; and
- Regular or continual meetings.
Regardless of how a state law defines a criminal street gang, one of the most important defining factors is that their activity is specifically identified as being criminal or illegal. Illegal gang activities may involve:
- The use and distribution of drugs; and
- Public disorder.
What is Loitering?
Loitering is defined as lingering, or hanging around, in a public location for an extended amount of time for no apparent reason. Numerous states have local ordinances against loitering or laws which make loitering in certain places and at certain times illegal.
Can I Get Arrested for Loitering?
Because of laws against loitering, law enforcement has the power to arrest individuals for loitering. The laws that govern loitering are frequently challenged because criminalizing lingering may be questionable.
It is, however, still considered to be illegal in many jurisdictions and in specific circumstances. Every jurisdiction which has considered loitering to be illegal has its own laws that specify how long an individual may hang around before it is considered to be too long.
One common example of loitering is when individuals spend large amounts of time outside of a convenience store without any clear intention.
The laws against loitering are commonly challenged on the basis of being vague, which is based upon the due process clause of the 5th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution. In addition, the laws against loitering will generally contain overly broad language that may raise 1st Amendment concerns.
In general, local laws may have time, place, or manner restrictions. The effect of these restrictions may be that only certain times of loitering are considered illegal.
For example, an individual may be permitted to loiter in a public park but not in front of a hospital. Another example may be that a local law states that loitering engaged in by minors during school hours is illegal.
The more specific the loitering law is, the less likely that a challenge against it will succeed.
What Are the Consequences of Being Charged with Loitering?
As a criminal offense, loitering is usually charged as a misdemeanor, which is punishable by fines or community service. Misdemeanor crimes are types of criminal offenses which are considered to be more serious than citations but less serious than felony offenses.
In the majority of states, the distinguishing feature of a misdemeanor is that it will generally be punished by a sentence with a maximum of one year in a county jail. A misdemeanor sentence is not served in a state prison facility, which is usually reserved for felony convictions.
The criminal punishment for a misdemeanor crime may also involve criminal fines. Typically, these fines are capped at $1,000.
The amount of the fine may vary by state. There is a broad range of crimes that are classified as misdemeanors, including loitering.
It is important to note that state laws may vary widely in terms of what crimes are classified as misdemeanors. The consequences for criminal misdemeanor charges may also depend on the exact type of offense involved.
Another issue to consider is what class of misdemeanor the crime is classified as. Classes of misdemeanors are typically associated with set penalties.
An example of a typical penal code may prescribe the following penalties for each class of misdemeanor:
- Class A or 1: Up to one year in county jail, or fines of up to $2,500;
- Class B or 2: Up to six months in jail, or fines of up to $1,000;
- Class C or 3: Up to three months in jail, or fines of up to $500; or
- Class D or 4: Up to thirty days in jail, or fines of up to $250.
The punishment for a misdemeanor offense will depend on the state laws as well as the circumstances which surround each case. For example, a repeat offender will typically face a higher misdemeanor penalty than a first time offender would fr the same offense.
In addition, a state may specifically list a distinct punishment for a specific crime, even if it is classified in a certain misdemeanor category.
What is a Gang Loitering Ordinance?
A gang loitering ordinance is a specific type of gang injunction that is aimed at preventing gang members from loitering, or congregating, in designated areas in a certain city. A gang ordinance is usually instituted in an urban area with a high crime rate as an attempt to curb the level of illegal activities in the area.
The legal consequences of violating a gang injunction typically include fines and possible jail time. If there is a gang loitering ordinance in effect, law enforcement has the authority to order a group of individuals to disperse from a public place even if they have not engaged in any particular legal activity.
Law enforcement typically needs at least a minimum amount of suspicion or reasonable belief that a loiterer is, in fact, a member of a particular gang, which has been identified beforehand. Law enforcement can, in some cases, make an arrest based upon the injunction if they think it is necessary.
One of the most famous examples of a gang loitering ordinance was passed in Chicago in 1992. The Gang Congregation Ordinance resulted in over 80,000 dispersal orders and some 42,000 arrests in a three year period.
What if I have been Incorrectly Involved in a Gang Loitering Violation?
Gang loitering ordinances have commonly been the subject of debate because many individuals believe they allow law enforcement to engage in racial profiling and warrantless arrests. Racial profiling concerns have become more complex because many gangs are considered hybrid gangs, which means that they are composed of individuals from different ethnic or racial groups.
If an individual feels that they have been wrongfully arrested or implicated in a gang injunction enforcement, they should consult with a criminal lawyer. A lawyer can help the individual prove that they are not a part of a gang and should have been ordered to disperse or arrested.
If an individual believes that a gang ordinance is unjust or unnecessary, they may be able to challenge the injunction in court. The burden of proof is on the government to prove that the injunction is necessary as well as that it does not discriminate on the basis of race.
When challenging a gang ordinance, an individual may be able to participate in an opt-out process to have the injunction removed. This procedure would likely require the individual and their attorney to provide statistical and historical information on the gang activity and crime rates for the zone where the injunction was enforced.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Gang Loitering Ordinance Violations?
A gang loitering ordinance may be necessary in some areas to preserve the peace in the community. If, however, you have violated an ordinance or you believe that you were wrongfully accused based on a gang ordinance, it is important to consult with a criminal attorney for advice and representation.
Because the laws governing loitering and loitering by minors can vary so widely by state, an experienced and local criminal attorney will be best suited to helping you understand your state’s specific laws. A criminal defense attorney is invaluable if you were unjustly harassed or falsely arrested for loitering.
In this type of case, you may be able to file a lawsuit in which you may be compensated for any injuries you may have suffered during the arrest. Your lawyer will also represent you in court as needed.