• Is it illegal to belong to a gang?

    Date: 09.07.07 | by Judge Tom.

    In the United States, it′s not against the law to be a member of a gang. The First Amendment′s freedom of assembly gives you the right to join any group or club, assuming you meet their requirements. Membership in the Ku Klux Klan, a neo-Nazi group, or a white supremacist organization isn′t illegal. The individual acts of a member may be unlawful, but not the mere fact of membership.

    Gang-related shootings, stabbings, and violence connected with drugs and alcohol happen every day. Schools, law enforcement agencies, and community organizations are working together to confront this problem. Los Angeles, for example, has the After School Alternative Program (ASAP) to help young people make better use of their time after school until a parent gets home from work. Legislatures have also passed stricter laws regarding gang activities, with increased penalties for gang crimes.

    young person taggingIn September, 2010, the country of El Salvador passed a law making it illegal to belong to a street gang. This was in response to an attack on a passenger bus by members of the Mara 18 gang that left seventeen people dead. Gang membership is punishable by four to six years in prison.

    Gang Report: In early 2012, a study was released that reviewed gang homicides in the United States. Homicide is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. for persons between 15 and 24 years of age. Five cities with high levels of gang homicide between 2003 and 2008 were studied: Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, Newark, New Jersey, Oakland and Long Beach, California. Data showed 856 gang homicides for this period with 80% involving males and 90% involving firearms. There are reportedly 30,000 street gangs active in the U.S. as of 2012.

    “A gang is where a coward goes to hide.”  –Mickey Mantle

    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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    8 Comments subscribe to these comments.

    • thomas j
      Tue, 29 Jun 2010 at 01:06

      i was recently hanging out with my friends when then suddenly officers get out of their car started questioning us(although we were just talking) they search me and my 2 friends and then started asking me and my friends if wat gang were from without even knowing if we were from one( although we are from one we refused to answer) then one of the officer i guess saw my tattos and ask by me neck by my chest and told me to raise my shirt to see my gang affilate i didnt do it so he did it they ended up talking to us then they left. ive had a lot of friends who are indeed in a gang and some who dont belong to one that end up being question by police even if their out there doing nothing especially in the park. do i have to answer their questions if i get stop by one them asking me things ….. or can i get arrested if i dont answer their question like wat gang im from
      Dear Thomas: You raise some very good points. Under the Constitution you have a right to remain silent when questioned by the police. However, there are exceptions that require you to answer basic questions regarding who you are. If the police stop you and ask for your name and some identification you are required to respond. Beyond that you can invoke your right to remain silent. In order for the police to arrest you they need probable cause that a crime has been or is in the process of being committed and that you’re involved. Also they can arrest you if they have an arrest warrant, but the warrant is also based on probable cause. Good luck.
      [This is information only - not legal advice].

    • marcus
      Sun, 11 Jul 2010 at 09:52

      i was recently in front of my house with my friends when two police started questioning only me not my friends just me i dont know why they wanted to check me i told them i dont consent to a search yet they still checked me he says that he was alowed to check wat can i do at this point that they broke my rights to consent to a search .. compton ca
      Dear Marcus: The circumstances surrounding the search determine whether it was a lawful or unlawful search. Such factors as officer safety, plain view of evidence supporting a crime, consent, probable cause and reasonable suspicion come into play. You could discuss the incident with a criminal lawyer or the officer’s supervisor and ask for an explanation. Good luck.
      [This is information only - not legal advice].

    • darrel
      Mon, 19 Jul 2010 at 01:01

      if im walking at 12am in the block and the police come and tell me the stupid excuse that i look suspicious because im out here at night in a gang infested neiborhood,,, and then tell me to take my shirt off to see my gang tattos do i have to take it off considering the fact i didnt do no crime… they threaten me that if i didnt show them my gang tats they would charged me with gang terrozing sumting like that i forgot….im 18 and have a clean record im from compton.
      Dear Darrel: We are all required to follow a lawful order of the police. Otherwise it may be a crime such as obstructing, interference with an investigation, or failure to follow an order given by law enforcement. If you question the legality of the command, talk with the officer’s supervisor or consult an attorney in your area who’s familiar with criminal law and police matters. Good luck.
      [This is information only - not legal advice].

    • Diane Reed
      Sun, 23 Oct 2011 at 02:30

      Is it illegal to belong to a gang? http://t.co/ZAQmlDzP

    • dana
      Tue, 31 Jan 2012 at 10:45

      not all gangs turned out to be a bad gang in the first place and the Latin Kings are proof of that. it only began as someting to help the latino community…..
      Dear Dana: You’re right – not all gangs are bad or into criminal activity. The word “gang” has a sinister meaning but some are examples of law-abiding groups. Thanks for your comment.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Kathy
      Wed, 30 Jan 2013 at 11:43

      Re: your statement that “In September, 2010, the country of El Salvador passed a law making it illegal to belong to a street gang. This was in response to an attack on a passenger bus by members of the Mara 18 gang that left seventeen people dead. Gang membership is punishable by four to six years in prison.” How is that working for El Salvador?

      Also, “In early 2012, a study was released that reviewed gang homicides in the United States. Homicide is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. for persons between 15 and 24 years of age.” What is the first leading cause of death in the US?

      Thank you.
      Dear Kathy: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death for this age group. They report 2,700 deaths in 2010 with over 280,000 crash injuries.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Jamin A. Smith
      Mon, 11 Feb 2013 at 09:29

      Hi and good evening Judge Tom. I’m an individual who has made countless appearances in front of two judges for two traffic tickets. During the traffic stop, I was told my license was suspended because of unpaid parking tickets from New Brunswick, and the officer, upon returning to my car from a different town says it’s specifically because of parking tickets, keeps my license and says park your car here and get it towed or leave it. I ask why my license was taken, and he says nothing. I did that twice. Why would the police of another town confiscate my License and over and over in court the judge of this town says they need me to get Another copy from the DMV. And the DMV says this town has to lift a rescinding order outa the same town that pulled me over. Isn’t that violating my rights? I later found that all the complaints in New Brunswick were dropped because fines were paid before the two new tickets.
      Dear Jamin: AsktheJudge.info is an educational site for & about teenagers and the laws that affect them. We don’t provide legal advice to adults or teens.
      We can’t explain the traffic laws in your area but contacting a local defense attorney or police officer may be able to help out. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Tony Perez
      Mon, 05 Aug 2013 at 01:57

      I was at my friend’s house visiting him after his release from the hospital when,suddenly, police lights flashed the entire house. We were told to come out front and sit on the curb. Shortly, we were search and asked for I.D. and questioned about gang affiliation etc. They also stated that we could not be at the house because it was declared a ” Gang House”. They threatened me with arrest after I questioned their actions, I asked if this was some kind of National Security law because I have never heard of these kind of action by police. They came with “No Call”, ” No Crime Committed”, ” No Warrant” etc… Can the police agency just declare a home how they want and take whatever action they want? Is their actions part of the new Anti Terrorism laws ie.. N.D.A.A.?
      Dear Tony: The actions of the police may be authorized under either a local or state law or possibly under federal law. However due process requires that proper notice be given to the homeowner so he has the opportunity to comply with the law. This site is an education site for & about teenagers and the laws that affect them. As such, we don’t provide legal advice to adults or teens. We suggest you talk with a criminal defense lawyer about this. Many provide free consultations for a brief period. Ask about this if you contact a lawyer. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

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