In Virginia, criminal street gangs have posed a significant threat to public safety for many years. In areas that experience tremendous levels of crime in Virginia, illegal gang activities are high. Most public safety agencies struggle too with gang-related crime.  Gang recruitment places the young and vulnerable population in Virginia at risk. Young people are usually the target of gang recruitment because they serve as potential new members. The young people may also fall victim to criminal gangs if they oppose the recruitment of the gangs.  For you to curb illegal gang activity, Virginia law makes Recruitment of Gang Members under code 18.2-46.3 a crime. If you are in Fairfax, VA, and Northern Virginia and are facing charges under Virginia law 18.2-46.3 for recruiting gang members, the penalties are detrimental. We at Virginia Criminal Attorney can help you come up with a proper defense to fight the charges.    

Definition of a Criminal Gang

A criminal gang in Virginia is an organization that has a common name or an identifying symbol. A gang often has a standard status, conduct, and customs. A gang usually has one of its key activities of engaging in criminal activities punishable as a felony.  

The law makes it a crime to use physical violence, property damage, or any other force against a child or an adult with the intent of making the victim join a gang. It is against the law to force a person to become a member of a criminal gang. It is also a violation of the law to make a person retain gang membership by preventing him/her from withdrawing or disassociating from gang membership. The law also makes it an offense to force a person or a child to rejoin a criminal gang in which the person is no longer a member.

The law prohibits organized criminal activities involving groups like criminal street gangs and mafias. Some of the crimes closely associated with criminal gangs in Virginia include murder, assault, manslaughter, kidnapping, and criminal extortion. Gang members may also engage in theft, burglary, arson, human trafficking, money laundering, fraud, sexual crimes, gambling, and drug crimes, among others.  Gang members often engage in criminal activities to provide income to the gang members making the gangs seem attractive and an avenue for financial freedom.

Deterring Gang Recruitment

There are many definitions of criminal gangs. However, all the definitions have similar components, which constitute a criminal gang.  A criminal gang mainly comprises three or more members who primarily engage in illegal activities. Members of a gang mostly identify themselves using a common name or a common sign. 

Engagement of young people in a gang may disrupt their healthy development and comes with a wide range of negative consequences. Upon involvement in a gang, a youth may no longer have the interest to continue schooling. Most teens in Virginia do not graduate college after joining groups. Other consequences of gang recruitment include unemployment due to failure to acquire skills. Gang recruitment also gives rise to teen parents.  

A person may not be a member of a gang for a lifetime.  In most cases, people join gangs for one year or two years. However, even if a youth joins a gang for a short time, the effects of joining a gang may last up to adulthood. The impacts of gang membership will influence the decisions the member makes as an adult. 

In most cases, people who were gang members in the past are prone to high levels of economic hardships.  These people are unable to sustain stable families and often encounter family problems. People with gang membership history tend to be prone to drug and substance abuse. These people are also prone to poor physical and mental health, mainly resulting from the use of drugs and other harmful substances. 

If not regulated, gang activities and recruitment may penetrate schools and other institutions. With the intense fight against gang recruitment, many students report less gang activity in their schools.  There has been a decreasing reporting of gang activity.  

In the United States, gangs lead to increased violence and misconduct in prisons.  The presence of gangs often poses a challenge to the efforts of maintaining safety, control, and order. In an attempt to curb gang activity, many prison systems in the United States have used restrictive housing to help reduce gang violence.  However, this correctional practice is controversial. The correctional practice entails placing people affiliated to a gang in restrictive housing irrespective of whether the culprits need it or have earned it.  

Deterring gang recruitment is crucial because overall, gang affiliates or members engage in higher levels of severe and violent crimes than non-gang members.  Most gang activities revolve around drug crimes and gun violence.  There is an established interconnection between gangs and drugs, guns, and violence. 

How Big is the Gang Problem

Gang recruitment has detrimental consequences and places a heavy burden on law enforcement and the health systems in the community.  The effects of gang recruitment are evident in the fact that homicide is the leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults in America. The deaths are not the only way of revealing gang activity in the United States.  Hundreds of young people receive treatment in emergency departments across the United States for assault-related injuries every year.  

A child who is a gang member has a higher likelihood of being a perpetrator or victim of crime than a child not involved in a gang. Addressing the aftermath of gang recruitment strains local, state, and federal budgets.  The state spends money on public health, education and community services, and criminal justice.  The majority of the youths who acquire gang membership do so when they are at a very young age. Early prevention is essential to help curb gang recruitment in Virginia.  Early prevention programs for gang recruitment are often useful if well implemented. 

Attractions to Gang Membership 

Several factors may attract youths to gang membership, making them easy targets for gang recruitment.  Some of the factors include:

Financial Stability

Due to intense involvement in criminal activities like stealing and drug dealing, gang membership avail illegally acquired income to the members.  Many youths may feel disconnected from the American dream, especially the teens living in poverty. The economic opportunities of gang membership offer quick alternatives to low-wage jobs. Many youths may prefer the easy cash available to gang members to the money acquired in the legal employment arena.  

Many people may consider gang membership a way to get out of poverty and embrace a lavish lifestyle.  If a child lives in a neighborhood where gangs make easy money, they are more likely to join a gang. 

Low-level jobs in gangs are much easier to get than a minimum wage job in the United States.  The gang jobs may give many youths a feeling that they are doing something to make some income. However, judging by the older gang members, it is evident that gang members do not get rich by being members of a gang.  Even if youths associate gang membership with financial freedom, there is no real economic advancement associated with gang membership.  Many young people who quit school and join gangs do not gain financial independence but continually engage in criminal activities to fund their lifestyles. 

Gang members do not abide by the societal rules, policies, or orders in their daily lives. The regulations of gangs supersede those of the larger society. Youths from families struggling financially and who do not have viable options for making money, gang membership may seem like the way out.  The financial opportunities offered in the underworld of gang membership are lucrative to many youths.  

Failing Relationships

Some youths in the United States often experience a feeling of rejection. Teenagers may feel marginalized and ignored by their families, school, or the church. Due to their need for love and acceptance, these youths may join a gang to enable them to fill a need for support. The teens may join a gang to seek a sense of belonging. 

Most gang members consider the gang members an auxiliary family. Some youths may even consider the gang members their actual family. In the busy modern living, many parents may not have ample time for their children. Most parents are often disconnected from their children's lives and have no idea about their children's interests. It is easy for children who feel neglected by the parents to join gangs to fill the love gap.  

Youths may also join a gang if they have witnessed another member of the family joining a gang. Many youths may derive the thrill of gang members from the fact that a family member or a friend is already in the gang.  

To Seek Protection

Many young people may feel that joining a gang will offer them more protection at school or in the community. Many people do not understand the fact that people who are members of a gang have a higher risk of exposure to violence than people who are not members of a gang.  It is common for girls who face sexual abuse and physical violence at home to join gangs with the hope of getting protection.

Children are more likely to join a gang at an early stage if they are hypersensitive to threats. For instance, if a child regularly sees shootings in the neighborhood, they are more likely to join a gang. 

In environments where gangs exist, violence is a regular occurrence. Many youths seek gang membership to seek protection from rival gangs to avoid victimization by failing to join gangs. Also, due to the sense of security that comes with gang affiliation, many teenagers may feel that gang membership prevents them from victimization by members of society.  

Social Status

Some youths consider gang membership as a way of raising their social status among their peers. Adolescents view gang membership as a way of getting respect, independence, and freedom. Kids who miss self-empowerment factors in their lives may join gangs to compensate for this loss.

Apart from personal reasons for joining a gang, youths may join groups because media presentations make gangs seem appealing. The media often make sensational portrayal and modern lifestyle of gang members, and this has a significant influence mainly on the more susceptible youths.  In America, young people recognize the talk, the walk, and the look of gang members.  

Many female youths find gangs appealing and join gangs when their friends or their boyfriends join the gangs. Although girls may not have the recognition as gang members, the majority are often integrated into male gangs.  Gang association in girls often leads to involvement in criminal and delinquent activities.  

Rebel against Societal Values

Some youths join gangs as a way of rebelling against societal and traditional values. They envy the outlaw culture of gang membership. Kids are likely to rebel during their adolescent years. During this period, children undergo cognitive development and are likely to envy being part of outlaw culture. The thought of rebelling against the norms may be compelling for adolescent kids.  

Mental Disorders

Little study has been done regarding the involvement of young people with mental disorders in gang activities. However, some psychological issues in young people may increase their likelihood of joining a gang. Mental disorders include depression, hyperactivity, conduct disorders, and externalizing behaviors. Most gang members in juvenile correction facilities have a history of psychiatric disturbances.  

Depression often pushes youths to join criminal gangs. Teens, especially boys who have experienced adverse life events, have a higher likelihood of participating in gangs. Some of the risk factors include poor performance in school, suspension from school, breaking up with a lover, and the death of someone close to the youth. For instance, the stress that comes with losing a parent or a sibling may compel a young person to join a criminal gang.  

Other factors that may increase the likelihood of joining gangs among young people is alcohol and drug use.  Youths who engage in drugs and alcohol at an early age have a higher probability of joining gangs than teens who do not participate in drugs and alcohol. The risk is higher when alcohol or drug use is extensive, and when the drugs involve marijuana.  

Penalties for Recruitment of Gang Members in Virginia

Gang recruitment is a severe crime under Virginia law, and the consequences for the crime are outlined under Virginia Code 18.2 -46.3. If you solicit, invite, recruit, encourage, or cause or attempt to cause another person to become a gang member or participate in gang activities, you will face charges for Class 1 misdemeanor.

Penalties for Class 1 Misdemeanor in Virginia

According to the Virginia Code of law, Class 1 misdemeanor crimes are among the most severe offenses among all classes of misdemeanors. Under Virginia law, the penalties for a Class 1 misdemeanor include jail time of one year and a fine of $2,500 or both. The penalty for Class 1-misdemeanor offenses may vary depending on the severity of the crime and the criminal background of the offender.  

A misdemeanor record may make it hard for you to find employment in Virginia because the record may show up on your background check. Most employers conduct a background check on potential employees before hiring them.  Whether or not a misdemeanor record will show up on a background check will depend on how thorough the background check is. 

Class 6 Felony

It is illegal for a person above the age of 18 years to recruit, encourage, solicit, cause, or attempt to cause a juvenile to actively take part in gang activities or become a gang member. Inducing a minor to acquire gang membership or participate in gang activities attracts Class 6 felony charges under Virginia law. 

Other factors may subject a defendant to Class 6 felony charges under Virginia law. You may face the charges if you encourage a person to join a criminal street gang or to remain a participant or a member of a criminal street gang.

Class 6 felony charges may apply if the defendant forces a person to submit to demands made by a criminal street gang to commit a felony violation. The defendant should not use force against an individual or a member of the individual's household or family. It is against the law to threaten force against an individual or a member or his family or household. Any activity that would place the individual in fear of bodily injury or death may attract Class 6 felony charges. 

Under Virginia law, a Class 6 felony is a wobbler offense. The prosecutor may choose to charge the offense as a misdemeanor or a felony.  If the prosecutor charges the offense as a felony, the penalties include imprisonment for five years. For a misdemeanor charge, the penalties may include jail time of twelve months and a fine of $2,500.  

Fighting Gang Recruitment Charges in Virginia

When the prosecutor accuses you of gang recruitment in Virginia, you do not have to agree with all the allegations leveled against you. With the help of an experienced criminal attorney, you can challenge the evidence of the prosecutor in court.  Some of the legal defenses you can employ to fight gang recruitment charges in Nevada include:

  1. The Police Entrapped you

You might not face charges for gang recruitment in Virginia if undercover police enticed you into committing the offense.  You may point out in court that if it were not for the police's interference, you would not have committed the crime.  If your attorney can prove that you were a victim of police entrapment in Virginia, you cannot face charges for gang recruitment. 

  1. It is not a Gang

Virginia rules 18.2-46.3 regarding gang recruitment will only apply if you recruit a child or another person into a bonafide gang. The charges may also apply if you force a child or another person to remain a member of a bonafide group. However, you cannot face charges for merely recruiting people into a crew or a club. For you to face charges, the prosecutor has to show that the group to which you recruited the victim meets the legal definition of a gang. If the group does not meet the definition of a gang and does not have the characteristics of a gang, you cannot face charges for gang recruitment.  

  1. Insufficient Evidence

The prosecutor must have sufficient evidence to prove that you engaged in gang recruitment for you to face charges. Some of the typical forms of proof include eyewitnesses, surveillance cameras, and other forms of electronic communication. If the prosecutor's evidence against you is too weak and unreliable to prove that you are guilty, your attorney can challenge this evidence. The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are indeed guilty of the said crime.  If the prosecutor is unable to confirm your guilt, it may lead to a drop in the charges.  

  1. You are a Victim of Police Misconduct 

You may fight charges for gang recruitment in Virginia if you feel that you are a victim of police misconduct. Even if you are a suspect of a crime, you still have some rights that the police should not violate.  You may use this defense if the police conducted an illegal search or if the police violated a search warrant.  Your attorney may file a motion to suppress any evidence acquired through unlawful means. If the judge goes by the petition and decides to suppress illegally-acquired proof, the prosecutor may drop the charges against you.  

  1. False Accusation

When prosecuting people for gang recruitment in Virginia, the prosecutor may rely on witness statements from people who may have witnessed the gang recruitment activities. Another person may decide to implicate you in recruiting people into a gang. A person may accuse you falsely out of anger or revenge.  If you involve an experienced criminal attorney, the attorney can investigate the circumstances surrounding your case. The attorney will check any evidence presented against you to help reveal the truth.

Find a Virginia Criminal Attorney Near Me

If you are facing charges for gang recruitment in Fairfax, VA, and Northern Virginia, you are at risk of facing imprisonment, among other penalties under Virginia law. With the help of an experienced criminal attorney, you can fight the charges using specific defense strategies. Our team at Virginia Criminal Attorney assists people facing gang recruitment charges in Virginia come up with a proper defense. Contact us at 703-718-5533 and speak to one of our experienced attorneys.