O.C.G.A. § 16-15-4 is commonly referred to as the Georgia Gang Statute. But, this statute can be difficult to understand. Georgia case law is clear that it is not illegal to simply be a member of a gang. In fact, a 2019 Georgia Supreme Court case called Chavers v. State says that a defendant cannot be convicted under the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act for merely being associated with a gang that commits criminal acts; the defendant must personally commit an enumerated offense himself. However, if the state can prove that you are a member of a gang AND commit an illegal activity to further the interests of the gang, you can be charged with violation of the Georgia Street Gang Terrorism Act. A conviction under the Georgia Gang Statute could result in up to 20 years in prison.
One way the state can charge an individual with violating the Georgia Gang Statute is under section (a) of the statute. Section (a) states that it shall be unlawful for any person employed by or associated with a criminal street gang to conduct or participate in criminal gang activity through the commission of any offense enumerated in paragraph (1) of Code Section 16-15-3. The enumerated offenses in paragraph 1 of 16-15-3 include things like racketeering, stalking, rape, kidnapping, criminal trespass or damage to property, any crime of violence, or compromising the security of a jail or prison.
Another way the state can charge an individual under the Georgia Gang Statute is under section (c) of the statute. Section (c) states that It shall be unlawful for any person to acquire or maintain, directly or indirectly, through criminal gang activity or proceeds derived therefrom any interest in or control of any real or personal property of any nature, including money. This simply means that a person could violate the Georgia Gang Statute by accepting money that was gained from illegal acts by a known gang. For example, a person who is holding money that was acquired through gang activity could be prosecuted under the Georgia Gang Statute.
It is important to remember that the state must prove 4 elements in order to convict someone of violating the Georgia Gang Statute:
(1) the existence of a “criminal street gang,” defined as “any organization, association, or group of three or more persons associated in fact, whether formal or informal, which engages in criminal gang activity”;
(2) the defendant’s association with the gang;
(3) that the defendant committed any of several enumerated criminal offenses, including those involving violence, possession of a weapon, or use of a weapon; and
(4) that the crime was intended to further the interests of the gang.
If you are charged with violating the Georgia Gang Act in Fulton, Dekalb, Gwinnett, Clayton, Cobb, or Rockdale counties, it is important that you hire an attorney who understands the intricacies of the statute. At W. Scott Smith, our lawyers have handled numerous gang cases and require the state to meet their burden. If you have been charged with gang crimes, call our office at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation today.