In the United States, prohibited street gangs are not a new social problem. Since the early 19th century, street gangs have been a severe problem, and they remain a persistent problem to date. Many states across the United States, including Virginia, are always fighting gang problems. Criminal gang membership starts at an early age. Many youths admit to the fact that they belonged to a gang at some point in their lives. The consequences of participating in criminal street gangs are severe for both the participants and the community. Participation in a prohibited street gang is a grave offense in Virginia with detrimental consequences. If the prosecutor charges you with the involvement in an outlawed street gang 18.2-46.2, you need a criminal attorney to fight for you. Virginia Criminal Attorney can help you fight the charges. 

Street Gang Participation in Virginia

Even with a drop in property crime and violent crime rates in Virginia, the gang problem persists. Jurisdictions have a persistent concern for the enduring presence of gangs and the prevalence of gang activities. Majority of the violence and serious crimes that happen in Virginia revolve around street gangs. Almost all homicide activities have something to do with prohibited street gangs.

The critical indicator of youth participation in prohibited street gangs shows the persistence of the gang problem. The leading signs of gang problems include youth self-admission of gang membership. Many youths admit to the fact that they were members of a gang at some point in their lives. Observers of gangs, especially the law enforcement officers, also provide insight into the prevalence of prohibited street gangs in Virginia. Youth surveys also serve as the primary source of information regarding gang activity in the United States.

Many youths admit that between the age of 12 and 17 years, they belonged to a criminal street gang. Many girls take part in prohibited street gangs than most people imagine. At young ages, girl gang members engage in similar crimes as boy gang members. Some of the common offenses conducted by gang members include robbery, assault, and gang fights. However, more boys than girls participate in prohibited street gangs.

Consequences of Prohibited Street Gang Participation

There are several consequences of participating in prohibited street gangs. Street gang participation leads to an increased propensity for violence. Therefore, people who take part in prohibited street gangs are more likely to be victims of violence than people who do not engage in criminal gangs. Street gang participation also reduces the chances or likelihood of a favorable life-course outcome. Prohibited street gangs also have adverse effects on the community. Gangs affect a community’s quality of life. Communities with street gangs face increased crimes, economic costs, and victimization. 

Some of the specific consequences of street gang involvement include:

Rising Levels of Violence

Many gang members often take part in violent crimes. While they are members of a gang, youths commit more crimes than before they join gangs or after they leave gangs. The crime rates among adolescents who are members of a gang are much higher than crime rates among adolescents who are not gang members. Gang participation among youths, especially in their late adolescence, is associated with persistent gun carrying and drug dealings.

In communities where gang membership is prevalent, gangs account for the most crimes in the community. Gang members have a higher tendency of involvement in serious and violent crimes.

Poor Outcomes in Life

Participation in prohibited street gangs often affects the outcome of the lives of the participants. Members of street gangs have increased involvement in delinquency, drug trafficking, drug use, and violence. These crimes often lead to trouble with law enforcement officers leading to arrests, convictions, and incarcerations.

Participating in street gangs go hand in hand with adverse outcomes like cohabitation, school dropout, unstable employment, and teen parenthood. If young people join street gangs for several years, the effects on their lives are often detrimental. Gang members or former gang members rarely succeed in their lives. Failure to succeed in life pushes gang members to engage in additional criminal activities to compensate for their mediocre lives. 

Victimization

Gang members may face victimization preceding gang membership and gang members. Victimization, which precedes gang membership, often comes from other sources outside the gang. For instance, before joining a gang, victimization may begin when a youth is at home. Child abuse and neglect are some of the most common forms of victimizations. If a teen experiences violence, including assaults or mal-treatment at home, the youths may end up becoming more aggressive themselves. Victimization may also lead to rejection from prosocial peer groups. Victimization may encourage youths to engage in high-risk adolescents and to join street gangs.

Even if victimization mainly comes from sources outside the gangs, gang members may also be the ones inflicting violence on the other members. Therefore, youths who are members of a gang have a higher risk of facing victimization than teens who are not gang members. By being frequently associated with gang members, youth tends to have violent responses to situations and retaliation against others. Therefore, street gang participation elevates the risk of violent victimization in criminal gangs. As girls participate in street gangs, the chances of engaging in high-risk sexual activities increase. 

Community Declines

Many communities with the prevalence of prohibited street gangs continue to face increasing gang-related homicides. The communities live in constant fear of crime. You never know when a crime will occur. The fear of gang activities is a daily experience for people who live in areas where criminal gangs are prevalent. It is hard for law enforcement officers to main orders in communities impacted by gangs. In these communities, there is intense intimidation of witnesses, and this undermines the judicial process.

The prevalence of prohibited street gangs also comes with other disadvantages, including poor impact on community businesses and tax revenue. Gangs also lead to loss of property values and weakened informal social-control mechanisms. There is a constant exodus of families and businesses from gang-ridden communities, and this often leads to community decline. 

Reducing the Attraction of Prohibited Street Gangs

In Virginia, youths and other participants join gangs because of many reasons. Therefore, to reduce the attraction of youths to gangs, multiple strategies are necessary. Teens, including the youths who are at a higher risk of joining gangs, have developmental assets. Strengthening these developmental assets while aligning them with the positive community resources may go a long way in reducing youth participation in prohibited criminal gangs.

It is possible to reduce youth attraction to gangs through community partnerships. To counter the attractions of gangs, deliberate effort is necessary. The community has to offer other prosocial alternatives to gang membership, which are attractive to the youths.

It is not possible to curb youth participation in prohibited street gangs without understanding the factors that attract youths to criminal gangs. Typically, young people join street gangs when the perceived benefits of gang memberships seem to outweigh the consequences that come with being members of a gang. Some of the reasons why people join street gangs include:

Financial Benefits

Most prohibited street gangs promise financial freedom to their members. Many youths join street gangs for the economic benefits the gangs offer. Many prohibited street gangs engage in the informal economy to generate money for the members. The gangs actively steal and resell the property and participate in the lucrative business of distributing drugs. Many youths, including females, point out that they joined a gang to be able to make money.

Gang membership offers more attractive benefits than the benefits that youths derive from low-wage jobs in the legitimate employment sector. Many males and females who feel disconnected from the American dream have a higher likelihood of joining street gangs for the perceived financial benefits.

It is easier to access the low-level jobs offered by gangs than getting minimum-wage jobs in the United States. Upon joining gangs, many youths may feel that they are doing something to make some money. However, this is all a lie because gangs do not make people productive. This is evident because older gang members who may have been in the gangs for long do not exhibit financial freedom. Most youths who quit school to join gangs do not advance beyond the low-wage legitimate job.

The financial opportunities in the underworld of gang membership mainly attract youths whose families are struggling financially. The economic prospects may also seem lucrative to youths whose family members are already part of the underworld economies. For instance, a teen with siblings who are gang members is likely to join a street gang. Gang joining is a smooth transition, given the attractive nature of the financial opportunities in the underworld. 

Peer Relationships with Gang Members

Many youths may join the gang to enjoy a close relationship with friends and family members who are already members of an outlawed group. For many young people, the close peer and family relationships with gang members is an attraction to joining a gang. Many youths tend to hang out with gang members in day-to-day activities. Gang members spend more time hanging out with friends than their families. 

To Seek Protection

A young person may feel motivated to join a gang to be able to get protection. Many youths believe that gangs can offer them protection against potentially violent attackers in their schools and the neighborhood. Many teenagers in Virginia report protection as the motivation for joining a gang. In places where gangs exist, violence is a regular occurrence. Many youths join gangs to avoid victimization and to seek protection from rival gangs.

Youths may get the misconception that joining a street gang is a way of protecting their community from outsiders and gang members from the nearby communities. Many gangs mislead the youths by telling them that they need to protect the people from coming to the neighborhood. Ironically, gang membership, affiliation, and the process of safeguarding territory may foster a sense of pride and identity in youths.

When youths experience problems and conflicts with family members, many seek refuge in prohibited street gangs to get protection. Gangs may offer opportunities to the youths, including girls, to learn some fighting skills and to protect themselves from danger. Many girls who join street gangs do so as a way of seeking protection from sexual abuse and drug addictions in their home environments. 

Many youths dwelling in violent neighborhoods or families have a desire to be proficient at violence. The teenagers consider the ability to engage in violence and to and to be successful in the force as a form of validation.

The prevalence of gangs in music videos, video games, and movies make many youths perceive gang membership as an identity of toughness. Due to this validation, engaging in fights, and other delinquent acts may become a part of a youth’s identity.

Gang members often feel as if they cannot fall victim to other members of the community based on the sense of protection that comes with gang membership. Many youths overlook the potential of violent encounters that come with gang membership because of the perception that affiliation to a gang may provide security from violence.

It is ironic for youths to join prohibited criminal gangs to seek protection. Many criminal gangs have violent rituals for entering, breaking the rules, or leaving the gang. Youths have to undergo severe beating as a form of joining ritual to join some street gangs. Gang members also tend to be at a higher risk of violence compared to people who are not members of a gang. Gang members engage in risky activities like possessing weapons and selling drugs, and this increases their likelihood of experiencing violence. 

Sense of Belonging

It is common for youths to join prohibited street gangs in Virginia to get a sense of belonging and support. Many youths may view gang membership as a means of building relationships with other people in their age group. During their adolescence, many youths seek a sense of belonging, and this increases the likelihood of joining a gang.

If a youth feels marginalized or rejected in other areas of life, including school, family, or church, such youth has a high chance of participating in a street gang. The youth may join a gang to fill a need for support. Many youths may consider gangs a means of making a new friend and expanding social networks. Many youths may view a prohibited street gang as an avenue for addressing their social needs. This attraction to criminal gangs makes youths join gangs voluntarily, and many street gangs do not require actively recruiting members.

Youths may join gangs even if the membership to the gang is short-lived. For many youths, belonging to a gang is a short phase. Some teenagers may be gang members for only one year, while others may extend the gang membership to over five years.

“Good Life” Status

Many people may join a gang in Virginia due to the excellent life status that comes with gang membership. Members of prohibited street gangs often display images associated with success, including vehicles, jewelry, and clothes. The medial also tends to reinforce the great life associated with gang life, primarily through music and videos.

Some youths live in communities that have many barriers to success. The obstacles include underprivileged school systems, unemployment, and dysfunctional households. For these youths, illegitimate means like engaging in prohibited criminal gangs may seem like the only way of getting out of poverty.

It is common for youths to join criminal gangs to be able to enhance their status among their peers. Many people consider gang membership as a means of boosting status and self-importance. Some young men may believe that gang membership would impress interested young women.

The Excitement of Street Life

It is common for young people to join prohibited criminal gangs because of enthusiasm or street life and the outlaw mentality of gang membership. Many females join gangs to build a reputation for being tough. It is common for children to rebel against conventional values. Joining a gang may seem like a means of taking a stand against societal norms because gang members have a perceived sense of independence.

Penalties for Participation in Prohibited Street Gangs

Participating in a prohibited street gang in Virginia is a criminal offense. According to Virginia law § 18.2-46.2, it is illegal for a person to participate actively or become a member of a criminal street gang. The law also makes it a crime for a person to willfully and knowingly participate in a predicate illegal activity for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal street gang. If any person engages in the outlined exercises, he/she will be guilty of a Class 5 felony under Virginia law.

However, it is essential to note that if a participant in a prohibited street gang is eighteen years and above and is aware or should be aware that the criminal gang includes a juvenile or minor participant, he/she will face Class 4 felony charges.

The violation of this section of Virginia law constitutes a distinct and separate offense. If your activities and acts of violating this section also violate another provision of the law, you may face further prosecution. Prosecution under § 18.2-46.2 will not bar or prohibit any proceeding or prosecution under other imposition or provision. 

Class 5 Felony

A regular violation of § 18.2-46.2, where a minor is not involved, will attract Class 5 felony charges under Virginia law. Under Virginia law, a Class 5 felony is a wobbler offense. This means that the crime may attract felony or misdemeanor charges. Charges assigned will depend on how the prosecutor charges the crime and the discretion of the judge.

According to Virginia law, a Class 5 felony is punishable by one to ten years in prison if the judge considers the offense a felony. If the judge finds the offense a misdemeanor, the penalties may include up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.

Class 4 Felony

A violation of § 18.2-46.2 where a minor is involved may attract Class 4 felony charges under Virginia law.  A Class 4 felony is punishable by two to ten years imprisonment. The court may also impose a hefty fine of up to $100,000. 

Legal Defenses to Prohibited Street Gang Participation Charges

When the prosecutor accuses you of participating in a prohibited street gang in Virginia, you do not have to give up or accept all the allegations the prosecutor brings your way. With the help of an experienced attorney, you can challenge the prosecutor's claims. 

It is essential to seek immediate legal representation after facing charges for participation in a prohibited street gang. Your reputation and your future success would be a stake if the prosecutor successfully accused you of violating Virginia gang participation law. Some of the legal defenses that you can adopt with the help of an attorney include:

  1. You did not Participate in a Prohibited Street Gang

For the prosecutor to accuse you of participating in a prohibited street gang, the prosecutor has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you indeed participated in an outlawed street gang.

In most cases, the prosecutor may rely on witness statements from people who may have spotted you participating in gang activities. It is common for witnesses to identify the wrong gang participants. You may fight the accusations of the prosecutor through your criminal attorney. If the prosecutor cannot prove beyond doubt that you participated in gang activities, you cannot face charges under Virginia law § 18.2-46.2.

  1. Innocent Gang

If you participated in a legalized group like a lawful club that does not meet the legal definition of a prohibited street gang, you might fight charges under Virginia law § 18.2-46.2. Through your attorney, you can point out that you participated in a lawful group, not a street gang.  Most street gangs engage in unlawful activities like robbery, violence, and assault, among other crimes. To face charges under Virginia law § 18.2-46.2, the prosecutor has to prove that the group you participated in meets the definition of a criminal gang.

Find a Criminal Attorney Near Me

If you are facing charges for participating in a prohibited street gang in Virginia, you need an experienced attorney to help you fight the charges. Virginia Criminal Attorney assists people facing criminal charges in Fairfax and Northern Virginia. Contact us at 703-718-5533 and speak to one of our experienced attorneys.