AB 333

The STEP Forward Act

  • Introduced
  • CA Assembly Committee
  • Assembly Floor Vote
  • CA Senate Committee
  • Senate Floor Vote
  • Bill Passed
  • Bill Signed

Summary of the Bill

  • Defines more specifically terms like “criminal street gang” and “pattern of criminal gang activity” that are often used to justify harsher criminal sentences
  • Limits the kinds of crimes used to prove a criminal street gang exists to more serious offenses
  • Increases due process protections against wrongful convictions by establishing additional requirements to prove the person accused committed a crime to benefit a gang
  • Protects against prejudicial impact of accusations of gang involvement by separating gang allegations from underlying charges at trial

Background: How Gang Enhancements Increase Criminal Punishment

In California, if you are accused of committing a crime and also affiliated with a gang means harsher punishment — this additional sentencing penalty is known as a “gang enhancement”. If a person accused of committing a felony is thought to have committed that felony for the benefit of a gang, then more time is added to their criminal sentence. In some cases, this gang enhancement penalty is often longer and more severe than the penalty for the underlying criminal offense. However, the justifications to prove gang involvement are not clearly defined, and therefore are used to contribute to California’s level of mass incarceration. This disproportionately impacts Black and Latino communities by criminalizing neighborhoods and relationships, and contributes to collective trauma on communities of color.

AB 333’s Proposed Solutions

This bill will essentially make it more difficult to use gang affiliation to increase a person’s sentence. AB 333 will end the ability of prosecutors to claim people are gang members simply because they may come from the same community, be related, or know each other — instead, it requires direct evidence of current and active gang involvement. This bill also prohibits the use of the current charged offense as proof of a “pattern” of criminal gang activity. By clarifying and separating a person’s sentence from their gang involvement, AB 333 will advance criminal, racial, and social justice by ensuring gang enhancements are only used when absolutely necessary.

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Had AB 333 been the law back then, I could have been held accountable under an age appropriate sentence instead of being incorrectly labeled a gang member that deserved the harshest punishment — life in adult prisons.

Michael Mendoza, ARC Director of National Advocacy

Our Focus on Criminal Justice

Fighting to end discriminatory practices in our criminal justice system by advancing system reforms that prioritize restorative justice over mass incarceration.

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Ken Spence

Senior Policy Advisor

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