A criminal street gang is any group or organization of persons whose main purpose is to commit one or several illegal criminal offenses. If the majority of the members are minors, the gang may be classified as a youth gang. Every state defines gangs somewhat differently; however, the legal definition of a street gang usually includes the following characteristics:
- A commonly shared group name or title
- Commonly shared style of dress that identifies the members with the group
- Association at a specific geographic location
- Regular or continual meetings
Regardless of how state laws define a criminal street gang, the most important factor is that their activity is specifically identified as being illegal or criminal. Such illegal activity can involve violence, use and distribution of drugs, and public disorder.
What is a Gang Loitering Ordinance?
A gang loitering ordinance is a particular type of gang injunction aimed at preventing gang members from congregating or loitering in designated areas in a given city. Gang ordinances are usually instituted in urban areas with high crime rates as an attempt to curb the level of illegal activities in the city. The legal consequence of violating a gang injunction usually includes fines and possible jail time.
If a gang loitering ordinance is in effect, the police have the authority to order a group of peoples to disperse from the public place even if they have not yet engaged in any particular illegal activity. The police usually need at least a minimum amount of suspicion or reasonable belief that the loiterers are in fact members of a particular gang, which they have identified beforehand. Police can sometimes make an arrest based on the injunction if they feel it is necessary.
Perhaps the most famous example of a gang loitering ordinance was passed in 1992 in the City of Chicago. Chicago’s “Gang Congregation Ordinance” followed the City of Chicago vs. Morales case and resulted in over 80,000 dispersal orders and some 42,000 arrests in a period of three years.
What if I have been Incorrectly Involved in a Gang Loitering Violation?
Gang loitering ordinances have often been subject to debate because many people feel that they allow police to engage in racial profiling and warrantless arrests. Racial profiling concerns have become more complicated, since many gangs currently considered “hybrid gangs”, meaning that they are composed of people from different ethnic or racial groups.
If you feel that you have been wrongfully arrested or implicated in a gang injunction enforcement, you should contact a criminal lawyer immediately. An attorney can help you prove that you are not part of any gang and should not have been arrested or ordered to disperse. You would need to make a clear showing that you were not loitering and are not in any way associated with the gang in question.
If you believe that a gang ordinance is unnecessary or unjust, you may be able to challenge the injunction itself in court. The burden of proof will be on the government to prove that the injunction is necessary, and that it does not discriminate on the basis of race. When challenging a gang ordinance, you may be able to participate in an “opt-out” process to have the injunction removed. This procedure would likely require you and your 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?
Gang loitering ordinances may sometimes be necessary to preserve the peace in a community. However, if you have violated such an ordinance, or if you feel that you were wrongfully accused under a gang ordinance, you should contact a criminal attorney for advice and representation. They will be able to discuss your rights with you and possible courses of action.