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Name: People v. Williams
Case #: F052218
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 5 DCA
Opinion Date: 10/22/2008
Summary

When determining whether a group constitutes a criminal street gang, “[s]omething more than a shared ideology or philosophy, or a name that contains the same word, must be shown before multiple units can be treated as a whole.” A jury convicted appellant of murder and of active participation in a criminal street gang. As to the murder, the jury found true a special-circumstance allegation that the crime was committed to further the activities of a criminal street gang. The gang charge and special-circumstance allegation were based on evidence that the murder was committed for the benefit of the Small Town Peckerwoods, which according to the prosecution gang expert, was a subset of the larger statewide Peckerwoods gang. During deliberations, the jury asked the court whether the gang activity that they were to consider in determining the truth of the gang charge and allegation was the activity of the Small Town Peckerwoods or of the larger Peckerwoods gang. Without objection by the defense, the court instructed the jurors, “If you determine that the Small Town Peckerwoods and the Peckerwoods essentially acted as one gang, you may look to the activity of both groups to determine whether the defendant knew that members of the gang engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity. If you do not determine that they acted as one gang, then you may not look to the activity of both groups.” On appeal, appellant argued that this instruction was wrong because the jury should not have been able to consider the activity of the larger Peckerwoods gang as there was insufficient evidence to show that the Small Town Peckerwoods gang of which appellant was a member was connected to the larger Peckerwoods gang so as to render the smaller gang responsible for the activities of the larger gang. The Court of Appeal agreed, holding: “In our view, something more than a shared ideology or philosophy, or a name that contains a word, must be shown before multiple units can be treated as a whole when determining whether a group constitutes a criminal street gang. Instead, some sort of collaborative organizational structure must be inferable from the evidence, so that the various groups reasonably can be viewed as parts of the same overall organization. There was no such showing here.” Since the jury was given the option of convicting appellant on a legally incorrect theory (i.e., that appellant knew that members of the larger Peckerwoods gang had engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity), and it could not be determined that the jurors based their findings on the gang charge and allegation solely on the basis of evidence concerning the Small Town Peckerwoods, the gang-participation conviction and gang special circumstance were reversed, and the case was remanded for retrial of those charges and/or for resentencing.