Was the evidence sufficient to support the criminal street gang enhancements imposed under Penal Code section 186.22, subdivision (b)?
On 4/21/2021, the court ordered the issues to be briefed and argued in this case limited to the following: When a member of a criminal street gang acts alone in committing a felony, what evidence will suffice to establish the felony was “committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with any criminal street gang, with the specific intent to promote, further, or assist in any criminal conduct by gang members”? (Pen. Code, § 186.22, subd. (b)(1); see People v. Albillar (2010) 51 Cal.4th 47, 59-60.)
Late one August night, Cristian Renteria walked through a neighborhood in Tulare and fired a gun at a house. Then, after a dog barked next door, Renteria fired the gun at that house, too. For this episode—which fortunately did not result in any injuries—a jury convicted Renteria of two counts of shooting at an inhabited dwelling. (Pen. Code, § 246.) That offense is ordinarily punishable by no more than seven years of imprisonment. (Ibid.) But the prosecution alleged that Renteria was subject to indeterminate life terms for the shootings because he committed the crimes “for the benefit of . . . any criminal street gang, with the specific intent to promote, further, or assist in any criminal conduct by gang members.” (Id., former § 186.22, subd. (b)(4).) While Renteria was a gang member, there was no evidence he was accompanied by any other gang members at the time of the shooting. The jury nonetheless found the gang allegation true, and Renteria was sentenced to two indeterminate terms of life imprisonment.
Renteria challenged the gang penalties as unsupported by the evidence, but the Court of Appeal affirmed, relying on an expert’s testimony that a gang member’s acts of violence both benefit the gang and promote its members’ criminal activities by enhancing the gang’s reputation for violence in the community.
We granted review to address the showing the prosecution must make to establish that Penal Code section 186.22 gang enhancements or penalties apply to a crime committed by a gang member who acts alone. Not every crime committed by an individual gang member is for the gang’s benefit or to promote criminal conduct by gang members, as the gang enhancement statute requires in such cases; gang members can, of course, commit crimes for their own purposes. Without more, expert testimony about the reputational benefits of crime does not support an inference that a lone gang member committed a crime for gang-related reasons—as opposed to acting from other, more personal motives. Because there was no adequate basis for drawing the necessary inference about Renteria’s intent in this case, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeal and remand for resentencing.
This case was decided on 8/25/2022.
Review on this issue was also granted with briefing deferred in:
- People v. Williams (Jan. 28, 2021, B301325) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 4/28/2021 (S267503)
- People v. Vidales (Feb. 23, 2021, C088685) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 5/12/2021 (S267864)
- People v. Castillo (Mar. 23, 2021, B301982) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 6/9/2021 (S268385)
- People v. Ponce (Mar. 11, 2021, A155368) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 6/9/2021 (S267898)
- People v. Mendez (Mar. 30, 2021, B305404) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 6/23/2021 (S268538)
- People v. Cyrus (May 11, 2021, E075271) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 7/14/2021 (S269251)
- People v. Braggs (May 27, 2021, B301727) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 8/11/2021 (S269678)
- People v. Mays (June 8, 2021, B302559) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 8/11/2021 (S269376)
- People v. Prescott (July 16, 2021, D076420) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 9/22/2021 (S270470)
- People v. Quevedo (Aug. 17, 2021, B300862) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 10/20/2021 (S270879)