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Name: People v. Prunty
Case #: S210234
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 08/27/2015

When the prosecution seeks to prove that a criminal street gang exists based on the conduct of one or more gang subsets, it must introduce evidence showing an organizational or associational connection that unites the gang subsets. Prunty, a Detroit Boulevard Norteño, and Chacon, a Varrio Franklin Boulevard Norteño, shot and injured Manzo, a Sureno, outside a fast food restaurant after exchanging gang-related insults. A young boy was also injured by the gunfire. At trial, the prosecutor sought to prove that Prunty committed the crimes for the benefit of a “criminal street gang” (Pen. Code, § 186.22, subd. (b)(1)). To prove the required predicate offenses, the prosecution introduced evidence of the activities of other Norteño subsets that Prunty did not belong to. The jury convicted Prunty of attempted voluntary manslaughter and assault with a firearm. It also found the gang enhancement true. The Court of Appeal affirmed and the California Supreme Court granted review to address the type of evidence required to support the prosecution’s theory that various alleged gang subsets constitute a single “criminal street gang” under the STEP Act. Held: Reversed. The STEP Act defines a “criminal street gang” as “any ongoing organization, association, or group” and includes additional elements that the prosecution must prove, including that members of the gang “have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity.” (See Pen. Code, § 186.22, subd. (f).) Applying rules of statutory construction, the Supreme Court concluded “that where the prosecution’s case positing the existence of a single ‘criminal street gang’ for purposes of section 186.22(f) turns on the existence and conduct of one or more gang subsets, then the prosecution must show some associational or organizational connection uniting those subsets.” The court also provided a number of examples of how the prosecution could prove organizational and associational connections. It is it is not enough that the group simply shares a common name, common identifying symbols, and a common enemy.

The evidence in this case was insufficient to prove the existence of a single “criminal street gang” within the meaning of the STEP Act. The prosecution’s theory for proving the gang enhancement was that Prunty assaulted Manzo to benefit the Sacramento-area Norteños. As a result, the prosecution needed to show that the same group engaged in illicit primary activities and committed the predicate offenses. (See Pen. Code, § 186.22, subd. (f).) However, the prosecution’s evidence fell short with respect to the predicate offenses. To prove the predicate offenses, the prosecution introduced evidence of two offenses that involved three alleged Norteño subsets (Prunty was not a member of these subsets). The prosecution did not introduce evidence showing that the groups were connected with each other, or to an overarching Sacramento-area Norteño criminal street gang. There was no evidence that the subsets self-identified as members of the larger Norteño organization that Prunty sought to benefit. While the prosecution did introduce evidence that was relevant to the gang enhancement, it was insufficient to show that existence of a single criminal street gang that included both the group Prunty sought to benefit and the specific subsets whose members committed the predicate offenses. [Editor’s Note: Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye (joined by Justice Chin) and Justice Corrigan authored concurring and dissenting opinions.]