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Gang Crime Charges: Increasing Prosecution of Gang-Related Crimes in Texas

This week, President Trump publicly blamed former President Obama for allowing known Central American gang MS-13 to gain a foothold in the United States.  See, “Trump blames Obama for formation of MS-13 crime gang,” published by the Business Insider on April 17, 2017.

Two months ago, the President signed a series of three executive orders targeting gang-related crime.  In one, he ordered the Justice Department to form its own task force to look into the problem.

From a criminal defense perspective, this means one thing:  we’re going to see more arrests that include allegations of gang affiliation and gang-related activity here in Texas. 

Gang Crime Charges in Texas

Why is that important?  When someone is arrested and charged with a crime here in Texas, it makes a difference if the police and the prosecutors believe that the accused is affiliated with a gang.

Gang members get treated differently in the criminal justice system.  This is true for both state and federal prosecutions.



What is a Gang?

The definition of a “gang” depends upon your perspective. For those who are members of a gang, it’s a lifestyle.  It’s family.  Gangs mean loyalty and brotherhood.

For law enforcement, gangs are criminal enterprises.  The Texas Legislature has passed a statute that officially defines “criminal street gangs” in Texas Penal Code Section 71.01(d) as: “three or more persons having a common identifying sign or symbol or an identifiable leadership who continuously or regularly associate in the commission of criminal activities.”

Gangs Are a Target of State and Federal Law Enforcement

Here in Texas, there are lots of law enforcement officials that are dedicated and focused on gangs operating here in Texas and the gang’s criminal activities.  It’s a huge factor in criminal investigations by both state and federal agencies.

Gangs are known to be organized and efficient in their criminal enterprises.  So gangs are a huge target for state and federal law enforcement.  Their zealous dedication to fight gang operations in their jurisdiction cannot be underestimated.  It’s a very, very big deal.

There are annual conventions for those in law enforcement who are dedicated to taking down and arresting gang members.  This year the June 2017 Texas Gang Investigators Association’s annual conference will be in San Antonio.   There are even awards that are given out for successful endeavors, like this year’s “U.S. Attorney General Awards for Investigation and Prosecution of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.”

And their efforts are well-funded and often coordinated between agencies.

Article 61 of The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure allows for an “intelligence database” to be compiled to “analyze, disseminate, or use” data regarding “criminal street gangs” operating in Texas “for the purpose of investigating or prosecuting criminal offenses.”  There are similar databases established by the federal government.

The bottom line?  Police officers are looking for gang-related criminal activity here in North Texas.  Federal agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and Homeland Security: ditto.

Which means that anyone arrested in Dallas, Fort Worth, or the rest of North Texas needs to be prepared for allegations that they have not only committed a crime, but that they have done so as a gang-member in a gang-related activity.

Texas Law Enforcement

The Texas Department of Public Safety published its “Texas Public Safety Threat Overview” in January 2017 (“DPS 2017 Overview”).  Read it here.

In it, DPS warns that:

“Gangs continue to pose a significant public safety threat to Texas, and their propensity for violence and many kinds of criminal activity is persistent. While the greatest concentrations of gang activity tend to be in the larger metropolitan areas, gang members are also present in the surrounding suburbs, and in rural areas.  Gang activity is especially prevalent in some of the counties adjacent to Mexico and along key smuggling corridors, since many Texas-based gangs are involved in cross-border trafficking.”

DPS 2017 Overview p. 5.

 According to DPS information, there are “thousands of individual gangs” operating in our state, in all sizes and locations.  Some have a handful of members; some have thousands of members living in Texas as well as other states and Mexico.  DPS 2017 Overview, p. 35.

Gangs are said to be profiting from human smuggling and human trafficking operations.  This includes commercial sex trafficking and forced prostitution.  DPS 2017 Overview, p. 35.

Gangs are also believed to be profiting from business affiliations with the Mexican Drug Cartels.  Texas gangs are believed to be acting as distributors for Mexican cartels in smuggling as well as carrying out acts of violence on both sides of the border.   DPS 2017 Overview, p. 35.

Tango Blast, Latin Kings, Texas Mexican Mafia, MS -13

The biggest gang threats to the State of Texas according to the Department of Public Safety are Tango Blast and Tango cliques, Latin Kings, Texas Mexican Mafia, and Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).  DPS 2017 Overview, p. 34.

Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) is believed to be very active in Dallas, with only Houston having a higher number of known MS-13 members in its jurisdiction.  DPS 2017 Overview, p. 36.  MS-13 is considered an “increasing threat.”

For more details on these gangs, read our discussion in:

Also read the Texas Tribune article written by Julian Aguilar and published on October 19, 2016, entitled, “Central American gang’s tentacles reach deep into Texas, United States.”

Federal Law Enforcement

Federal prosecutors are just as anxious to prosecute gang-related offenses in the federal system.  They have their own Gang Prosecution Manual to follow in these cases. Read it here.

Often, federal efforts are undertaken to support and join with state law enforcement in curtailing gang activities in the state.  And this was before President Trump started encouraging gang-related prosecutions in the federal system.

The Office of the United States Attorney advises that federal agencies are part of an “…increasing federal effort to assist local law enforcement in targeting and federally prosecuting violent criminals.”

This has led to federal prosecutions of crimes that would traditionally be tried in a state court.  According to their Manual, this is “… needed in many states where penitentiary sentences result in minimal time served by defendants. This pathetic situation has resulted in an almost total absence of deterrence as a result of criminal sentences. As a consequence, some repeat offenders have no fear of punishment. Gangs exemplify this type of contempt of the criminal system.”

In the federal system, “… violent criminals are gaining a keen respect for the federal criminal system. They are aware of the abolishment of parole, as well as the high guidelines and enhanced sentencing for drug and firearms-related federal crimes.”

See: U.S. Attorney General Criminal Resource Manual Section 106.

Gang-Related Charges

Those who are arrested need to understand the danger of being labeled and charged as a gang member.  Specific charges can be filed that are considered to be gang-related offenses.  This is important for the defendant in any trial or sentencing.

Why?  If the accused is charged with something that is considered to be gang-related, then he or she can face enhanced penalties if they are convicted of the crime.

“Engaging in Organized Criminal Activity” is a crime all by itself in Texas.  Texas Penal Code Section 71.02 defines the offense, and punishment ranges from a state jail felony to life without parole (depending upon the related offense).

Gang crimes get stiffer punishments in state and federal court.  Gang affiliations complicate plea negotiations and defense arguments at sentencing hearings.

Defending Against Gang Crime Charges in State or Federal Court

There are defense strategies to be used in defending someone who is alleged to be a gang member or to have committed a gang-related crime.

Defense arguments can include unlawful search and seizure; unlawful arrest; and all kinds of violations of constitutional due process during the investigation and arrest of the accused.  Motions to suppress evidence as well as motions to dismiss the entire matter can be filed in an aggressive defense of someone accused of gang-related charges in either federal or state court.

Given the new Washington perspective, it’s reasonable to predict that local federal and state authorities are going to be looking for potential gang-related charges and prosecutions.  Experienced criminal defense lawyers here in North Texas are prepared for it. 


For more information, check out our web resources, read Michael Lowe’s Case Results, and read his in-depth article,” Pre-Arrest Criminal Investigations.”


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