Gang and Hate Crimes
The Office of the District Attorney aggressively prosecutes all criminal street gang members, adults or juveniles, and is dedicated to removing the most dangerous gang members from our community. The DA’s Office is also actively engaged in gang prevention programs.
The Gang Unit is comprised of specially trained and experienced attorneys who prosecute all gang and hate crime cases in Sonoma County. Gang crimes make up a vast majority of the serious and violent crimes committed in our neighborhoods and on our streets. More than half of the homicides in Sonoma County are committed by gang members. Someone identified as a criminal street gang member commits crimes for or in association with other gang members.
Gang Unit cases are handled in a vertical prosecution format where one deputy district attorney is assigned to the case at the time law enforcement submits the case to the District Attorney’s Office for review. Vertical prosecution is a proven method for increasing successful prosecutions, wherein victims and witnesses are allowed to work with the same prosecutor, advocate, and investigator from the time charges are filed through the sentencing of the offender. Members of the Unit also work closely with law enforcement agencies throughout the County and State to identify gangs and their members in an effort to monitor and suppress gang activity in Sonoma County.
Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention (STEP) Act
The Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention (STEP) Act was enacted in 1988 by the California legislature, after finding that "the State of California is in a state of crisis which has been caused by violent street gangs whose members threaten, terrorize, and commit a multitude of crimes against the peaceful citizens of their neighborhoods." The purpose of this law is "to seek the eradication of criminal activity by street gangs by focusing upon patterns of criminal gang activity and upon the organized nature of street gangs." The STEP Act was amended by the voters (Proposition 21) in 2000, finding that "criminal street gangs have become more violent, bolder, and better organized in recent years…and gang-related crimes pose a unique threat to the public because of gang members’ organization and solidarity. Gang-related felonies should result in severe penalties. Dramatic changes are needed in the way we treat criminal street gangs…if we are to avoid the predicted, unprecedented surge in juvenile and gang violence. Californians deserve to live without fear of violent crime and to enjoy safe neighborhoods, parks and schools."
- The STEP Act imposes substantial penalties for gang crimes, and use of a firearm in the course of a crime committed for the benefit of a street gang.
- The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office uses the STEP Act to aggressively prosecute gang members. The office consistently has a high conviction rate in gang cases.
Testimony by a witness to a crime is vital to the prosecution of gang cases. The District Attorney’s Office recognizes that fear of gangs can prevent individuals from cooperating with prosecution. As a result, prosecutors work with the District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation to provide services to victims and witnesses of gang crimes, such as relocation or other services related to ensuring that these witnesses feel safe and secure.
California hate crime law prohibits the use of force or threat of force because of a victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability. California law provides for an increased sentence of one to four years in state prison if the underlying criminal act or attempted criminal act is “substantially motivated” by the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability.
The Office of the Sonoma County District Attorney is committed to the prosecution of hate crimes that strike to the core of our society because everyone should be treated fairly, equally, and not discriminated against.