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Gang Crime Laws and Penalties in Florida Explained

Gang Crime Laws and Penalties in Florida Explained

Gangs and gang-related crime are unfortunately a serious issue in Florida. The state has enacted a number of laws aimed at cracking down on criminal gang activity. This article provides an overview of the key laws and penalties related to gang crimes in Florida.

What is a Criminal Gang Under Florida Law

Florida statute defines a “criminal gang” as (§ 874.03):

“A formal or informal ongoing organization, association, or group that has as one of its primary activities the commission of criminal or delinquent acts, and that consists of three or more persons who have a common name or common identifying signs, colors, or symbols.”

This includes terrorist organizations and hate groups. So in order to qualify as a criminal gang under the law, the group must:

  • Have 3 or more members
  • Have a common name, signs, colors or symbols
  • Have as a primary activity the commission of crimes

Gang Crime Penalty Enhancements

Florida has enacted a series of laws that provide for penalty enhancements for crimes committed to benefit or further the interests of criminal gangs. This means the penalties and sentences can be increased if the crime is gang-related.

Felony Gang Crimes

Under § 874.04, any felony crime committed for the purpose of benefiting or furthering the interests of a criminal gang will be reclassified to the next higher degree felony.

For example, a 3rd degree felony would become a 2nd degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. And a 1st degree felony (normally punishable by up to 30 years) would become a life felony.

The law also requires a minimum prison sentence of 3 years for any felony enhanced under this statute.

Misdemeanor Gang Crimes

Section 874.06 similarly enhances penalties for misdemeanors committed for the benefit of a gang. The misdemeanor gets reclassified to the next highest degree misdemeanor.

So a 2nd degree misdemeanor becomes a 1st degree misdemeanor. And a 1st degree misdemeanor gets reclassified as a 3rd degree felony.

Sentencing Enhancements

In addition to the reclassification of felonies and misdemeanors under §§ 874.04 and 874.06, Florida’s sentencing guidelines provide for enhancement penalties for all gang-related felonies.

The Criminal Punishment Code requires the sentencing judge to increase the lowest permissible prison sentence by 15% for felonies found to be committed for the purpose of benefiting a criminal gang (§ 921.0024).So this adds further prison time on top of the increased penalties for the reclassified felony charges.

RICO Liability for Criminal Gangs

Florida’s RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization) Act allows for criminal prosecution of criminal gangs as organized continuing criminal enterprises.

Under § 895.03, it is unlawful for anyone employed by or associated with any criminal gang enterprise to conduct or participate in the enterprise through a pattern of criminal activity. This can include predicate offenses like:

  • Drug trafficking
  • Theft
  • Fraud
  • Money laundering
  • Extortion
  • Aggravated assault
  • Battery
  • Kidnapping

Criminal penalties under FL RICO are severe. A RICO conviction can carry up to 30 years in prison per offense. So multiple RICO counts can result in very lengthy prison sentences.

Prosecuting criminal gangs under RICO also allows for large monetary penalties. Under FL law, RICO violations carry civil penalties of up to $1 million per offense.

Defenses to Gang Crimes

Fighting gang crime allegations in Florida requires skilled criminal defense representation. Key defenses include:

Lack of Criminal Intent – The prosecution has to prove criminal intent to benefit a gang. Evidence showing no specific intent can defeat the charges.

Misidentification – Eyewitness misidentification is common. If the allegation that you are in a gang is wrong, the enhancement charges can be defeated.

First Amendment – The First Amendment protects freedom of association. Mere association with known gang members is not enough without evidence of criminal activity.

Entrapment – It is a defense if police improperly induced or encouraged gang membership or crimes.

Self-Defense – Violent crimes may be justified as self-defense. Gang enhancements require criminal activity, so self-defense can defeat the charges.

If you or a loved one face gang crime allegations, an experienced criminal defense attorney can fully investigate the charges and work to avoid harsh penalties. Don’t hesitate to discuss your case with a lawyer today.

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