According to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), “Federal legislation allows U.S. Attorneys to enhance the penalty for crimes committed by gang members. A growing number of state have passed or are considering passing similar enhanced prosecution legislation.” California and Texas are two states that not only border Mexico (which is heavily linked to gangs and drug trafficking), but are leading the rest of the country in legislation that increase the punishment for gang-related crimes.
Before we get into Texas’ gang sentencing enhancement law, we want you to know that there is also federal legislation that specifically addresses criminal street gangs. Under 18 U.S.C. § 521, if someone is convicted of an offense described in subsection (c), his or her sentence will be increased by 10 years if it is committed under specific circumstances.
Texas’ Gang Enhancement Law
Texas’ gang enhancement law is covered under Sec. 71.02 of the Texas Penal Code. Under Sec. 71.02(a), a person commits the offense of “engaging in organized criminal activity,” if he or she commits or conspires to commit an offense with the intention of establishing, maintaining, or participating as a member of a criminal street gang, and the person commits any of the following offenses:
- Capital murder
- Deadly conduct
- Kidnapping or aggravated kidnapping
- Robbery or aggravated robbery
- Sexual assault
- Aggravated sexual assault
- Continual sexual abuse of a young child
Under Texas’ gang enhancement law, if someone commits a gang-related crime, the charge will be elevated to one category higher than what it would be normally charged if it was not associated with a gang.
For example, if an offense was a third-degree felony normally, it would be elevated to a second-degree felony if it was gang-related. Conversely, if it was a second-degree felony, it would be elevated to a first-degree felony under Texas’ gang enhancement law.
Related: Sentencing Enhancements for Gang-Related Crime
As of this writing, some of the gangs that pose the greatest threat to Texas include Tango Blast and their associated groups, the Texas Mexican Mafia, the Latin Kings, and MS-13.