"I understand that good people sometimes find themselves in bad situations."

Arizona’s Street Gang and Criminal Syndicate Law Explained

by Aaron M. Black • April 22, 2021

Arizona legislators have enacted laws aimed at street and syndicate gangs to curtail criminal behavior including drive-by shootings; illicit drug sales; weapon violations; homicide and graffiti; assault; burglary; rape; drug possession, use, sales and trafficking; smuggling and homicide, among other offenses.

Organized crimes are aggressively prosecuted and the sentences are harsh because these crimes are considered attacks on society. Members of street gangs and organized crime who  are convicted often continue their associations in the form of prison gangs.

Those convicted under gang laws face harsh penalties, and in certain cases will not qualify for probation.

Arizona Street Gang Laws

Street gang allegations

Arizona Revised Statute §13-105 defines a criminal street gang as a formal or informal “association” of people who collectively or individually commit or attempt to commit any felony crime. At least one member of the association must be a street gang member.

A street gang member is defined by meeting at least two of seven criteria:

One, a street gang member is someone who proclaims membership in a street gang; or, two, who is identified as a gang member by a witness or an official; three, possessing written or electronic correspondence; four, having paraphernalia or photographs; five, tattoos; six, wearing the “colors” of a gang; and seven, any other signs of gang membership.

Using a common name or an identifying sign or symbol of street gang membership can be used in court to prove the existence of a particular criminal street gang or membership in it.
Arizona Revised Statute §13-2321 addresses intentionally organizing or having a management or financial roll in the gang, knowingly inciting or inducing someone to engage in violence or intimidation, promoting or furthering the gang’s objectives, and assisting a gang by committing a felony or preparing to do so.

Arizona Revised Statute §13-1202 covers threats and intimidation by words or conduct. This includes threatening physical injury to someone or significant property damage to promoting or assisting the street gang, or soliciting or inducing someone to participate in the criminal street gang. This law includes causing a serious inconvenience to the public such as interrupting public transportation.

Assisting a criminal syndicate

Arizona Revised Statute §13-2308 makes participating or assisting a criminal syndicate by intentionally organizing, managing, directing, supervising or providing financial help intending to further or promote the syndicate’s criminal objectives. Assisting a criminal syndicate is a Class 4 felony.

In recruiting a minor for any preparatory conduct or completing any related offense is elevated to a Class 2 felony. If convicted the defendant is not eligible for probation, pardon, a suspension of the sentence or release until the sentence is commuted.

Ramifications of a gang conviction

Participating in a criminal street gang is a Class 2 felony and assisting a criminal street gang is a Class 3 felony. Making threats and causing intimidation is a Class 1 misdemeanor and becomes a Class 6 felony if in retaliation or preventing someone to report criminal activity.

A felony conviction means a sentence to state prison, significant fines, and a lifelong criminal record that is visible to potential employers and landlords in background checks, and the loss of the constitutional right to own and possess a firearm, the right to vote in elections or to hold public office among other restrictions.

Generally, criminal street gang members that exhibit or use a deadly weapon in committing a crime are not eligible for probation or a diversion program.

Law enforcement’s response

Criminal street gangs have an extensive network that makes it difficult to determine the exact number of gangs and gang members in a particular jurisdiction. Authorities across Arizona have units dedicated to investigate criminal street gangs.

Authorities have taken several steps to curtail criminal street gangs beginning in 1990 with Operation Safe Streets, organized by the Phoenix Police Department. In the year of its inception, 580 violent gang-related offenses were detected including 377 aggravated assaults, 171 drive-by shootings and three homicides.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office established its Gang Bureau to aggressively investigate and prosecute members of criminal street gangs, and established the Phoenix Gang Squad which patrols the streets to keep gang activity under control.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety’s Gang & Immigration Intelligence Team (GIITEM) is a statewide multi-agency task force working to suppress criminal gangs and trans-national crime.

According to the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, law enforcement agencies report that gang activity has been in decline since 2013.

Gang-related sentencing overturned

The U.S. Constitution protects the civil rights of individuals against government overreach as in this gang-related case:

The Arizona Supreme Court unanimously ruled in September 2020 that the law establishing harsher sentences for those who threaten others only because of an association with a gang or belonging to a gang is unconstitutional. The law violates the U.S. Constitution’s due process clause under the Fourth Amendment’s right of association.

The justices wrote, “We consider whether A.R.S. 13-1202(B)(2), which enhances the sentence for threatening or intimidating if the defendant is a criminal street gang member, is constitutional. We hold that it is not because it increases a criminal sentence based solely upon gang status in violation of substantive due process.”

In this case, against defendant Christopher Arevalo, the prosecution alleged that he stole a bag of peanuts and a soda from a convenience store and he mimicked pointing a firearm at an employee and made shooting noises.

An example of an aggressive defense by a Criminal Defense Attorney

The Arevalo case is a good illustration of what an experienced and dedicated criminal defense attorney can do to protect a defendant’s constitutional rights. Every case is unique, so available defenses will vary.

Gang related cases can be attacked on procedural and evidentiary grounds. A person who is coerced into aiding a gang, and would not have otherwise participated, is a defense.
The defense begins at the moment of engaging with law enforcement. Exercise your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent to prevent incriminating yourself and demand that a defense attorney be present at the questioning.

Protecting constitutional rights

If you or a loved one is under investigation or has been arrested for a gang offense, the Law Office of Aaron M. Black can help to contest the state’s evidence by conducting a thorough and independent investigation of the evidence and aggressively challenge the government’s case always with the goal of winning a dismissal of the charges.

Aaron M. Black is rated in the top one percent of the finest lawyers in the country by the National Association of Distinguished Counsel and is listed in the Top 100 trial lawyers by the National Trial Lawyers Association.

Begin your defense by calling 480-729-1683 at any time, on any day including weekends and holidays, or use my online contact form. I will promptly respond unless I am in court. I defend criminal cases in federal, state, city and justice courts in and near Maricopa County.


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In light of the Coronavirus pandemic, I wanted to inform clients and potential clients I am still available for consultations. I am always available by phone, text and/or email. We can also use Facetime for social distancing. The criminal justice system is not stopping due to COVID-19.

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