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Name: People v. Robles
Case #: S069306
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 08/14/2000
Subsequent History: None

Penal Code section 12031, subdivision (a)(2)(C) elevates the offense of carrying a loaded firearm in public from a misdemeanor to a felony when committed by an “active participant in a criminal street gang as defined in” Penal Code section 186.22, subdivision (a), of the California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act of 1988 (STEP Act). The California Supreme Court found that because subdivision (a) does not define the statutory phrase “an active participant in a criminal street gang,” but merely sets forth the elements of a gang offense, it should look to legislative intent to ascertain the statutory meaning. In so doing, the court found two plausible constructions: first, that the active participation must have include all the elements of the substantive offense defined in subdivision (a); or second, that the active participation may refer to just one element of that crime defined in subdivision (a)–the active participation in any criminal street gang. Finding that the legislative intent evidence was inconclusive, the court invoked the rule of lenity, and construed the statute as favorably to the criminal defendants as reasonably permitted by the statutory language and circumstances of the application of the law at issue. The court held that the prosecution had failed to establish the requirement in section 12031, subdivision (a)(2)(C), that appellant was an active participant in a criminal street gang by proving all the elements of the substantive gang offense defined in section 186.22, subdivision (a). In other words, the prosecution had to prove that appellant carried the loaded firearm while “actively participating in any street gang with knowledge that its member engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity,” and that appellant “willfully promoted, furthered, or assisted in any felonious conduct by members of that gang.” Accordingly, appellant could not be held to answer, and the superior court correctly denied the People’s motion to reinstate the complaint, which the magistrate had dismissed at the preliminary hearing. Justice Baxter dissented.