Mercury News: District Attorney’s Office Charging Gang Enhancements for Graffiti

Gang enhancements are a device prosecutors use to greatly increase (or threaten to increase) sentences for defendants who they feel meet the extremely loose definition of having committed a crime to benefit a “street gang.” By adding this enhancement, ACJP has seen families where a defendant felt forced to take a plea due to the extremely high sentence they would face if they lost a trial due to the enhancements. And as defense attorneys will tell you, walking into a jury trial with a “gang” tag already puts the defendant at a serious disadvantage. But this is the first time we have seen prosecutors expand the net of gang enhancement to include graffiti charges — as they have just done here in Santa Clara County. As you will see in the article written by Tracey Kaplan for the Mercury News, the DA’s office acknowledges these are non-violent acts, but nonetheless are applying gang enhancements. We are concerned with this precedent of treating the enhancement like a rubber band — stretching it to include whomever they want to force a plea out of. And of course, we know that such extraordinarily severe sentencing will not deter the act of graffiti. As such, these youth are being sacrificed (records with strikes and the looming threat of lengthy prison sentences) for a rationale that carries no logic in the real world. 

SAN JOSE,CA — It’s not an offshoot of the Norteños, Sureños, Bloods or Crips. Its members don’t sell dope or do drive-bys . And their weapons of choice aren’t guns or knives — but a colorful arsenal of spray paints.But now, a nonviolent tagging crew that’s plastered Bay Area freeways and businesses with elaborate graffiti for years has been charged by fed-up Santa Clara County prosecutors as a criminal street gang.The controversial gang enhancement, used for the first time in the South Bay against a nonviolent group of taggers and infrequently around the state, means members of the Have You Seen Us, or HYSU, crew face significantly longer potential sentences for felony vandalism — five to 22 years in state prison. Even under a tentative plea deal, their convictions will go down on their record as a strike.

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