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Understanding Houston’s Youth Gang Dynamics and Defense Strategies

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What is the Current State of Youth Gang Activity in Houston, and How Does it Impact Criminal Prosecution?

Houston is currently facing significant challenges with youth gang activity and related criminal behavior. Even though gang violence is commonly underreported, gangs are considered to be responsible for a substantial portion of the city’s violent crime. Gangs have expanded from the inner city into suburban and rural areas around Houston, leading to territorial conflicts and the spread of gang violence to new communities. Gang-related criminal activities may include a wide variety of harmful acts such as arson, assault, burglary, theft, forgery, kidnapping, robbery, sexual assault, drug trafficking, and murder.

Houston has implemented several intervention and prevention strategies to combat youth gang involvement. The Mayor’s Anti-Gang Office and Gang Task Force, established in response to rising gang-related crime in the early 1990s, aim to reduce juvenile and gang-related crime through partnerships with law enforcement, criminal justice agencies, schools, and youth service providers. Programs such as the Gang Resistance Education Awareness Training (G.R.E.A.T.) focus on educating middle school students about the dangers of gang involvement and attempt to foster positive relationships between law enforcement and the community.

While these efforts have shown some promise in preventing youth gang involvement, law enforcement agencies have struggled to dismantle or disrupt the most violent gangs so far. Prosecutors in Texas are increasingly proactive in identifying and building cases around gang involvement, even if the accused youth has not previously been identified as an active member of a specific gang organization. Presenting a solid defense is vital in these cases because gang-related crimes can result in enhanced charges and more severe penalties. A knowledgeable Houston juvenile defense attorney can investigate your case and fight for the most favorable outcome.

How are Houston’s Law Enforcement Agencies Cracking Down on Gang-Related Crimes?

The crackdown on Houston gangs involves coordination between the FBI, Department of Justice, Houston Police Department, Harris County Sheriff’s Office, and other law enforcement partners. Law enforcement operations in the area have resulted in the seizure of large quantities of illegal firearms, drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine, and millions in cash. These actions are targeted at disrupting the resources and capabilities of local gang organizations. Prosecutors are also leveraging state laws against organized criminal activity and racketeering to target gang leaders and their criminal enterprises.

Crimes committed in conjunction with a gang are prosecuted more harshly than standard criminal activities. The prosecution enhancement for gang activity is covered under Sec. 71.02 of the Texas Penal Code. Under this law, if a juvenile or adult commits a gang-related crime, the charge is increased to one category higher than what would typically be charged if the act was not associated with a gang. For example, if an offense was usually a third-degree felony, it would be elevated to a second-degree felony under Texas’ gang enhancement law.

What Are Some of the Factors That Can Lead to a Youth Being Accused of Gang Activity?

Juveniles arrested for a crime in Houston may find themselves facing the added legal challenge of gang activity accusations. Prosecutors attempt to identify potential gang connections early so the case can be prosecuted accordingly. Even if the accused individual is not listed in a gang database, law enforcement and prosecutors may infer membership or affiliation with known gangs based on the following factors:

  • Displaying gang-related tattoos, symbols, or other identifiers that can be used as evidence of gang involvement.
  • Relationships and associations with other recognized gang members, even if the youth is not an active participant in the gang’s criminal activities.
  • Engaging in criminal activities in court-designated “gang-free zones” that have been identified as potential hotbeds of gang violence.
  • Involvement in activities related to drug trafficking, human smuggling, and other transnational criminal enterprises that are often linked to gangs.

What Are Common Defense Strategies for Juveniles Charged With Gang Activity in Houston?

The state takes a very aggressive approach to combating gang-related activities. However, an accused youth offender can be incorrectly associated with a gang by law enforcement due to mistaken identity, the choices of their friend group, or other erroneous assumptions. As the consequences of a conviction for gang-related criminal activity can be so severe, challenging the prosecution’s evidence of gang involvement and disputing enhancements can be essential to protecting the accused’s rights and safeguarding their future.

Determining the most effective approach requires a detailed understanding of both the legal definitions of gang involvement and the specifics of the juvenile’s actions. A defense attorney may posit that the accused is not an active gang member or that the alleged gang activities were not related to the individual’s criminal conduct. Other defense strategies may involve:

  • Questioning the reliability of key witnesses.
  • Challenging the admissibility of evidence.
  • Highlighting any inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case.

Additionally, a defense attorney may argue that the accused was coerced or pressured into participating in gang activities or that they were not aware of the gang’s criminal activities.

How Could an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Assist You?

If you or your child has been charged with a youth gang-related crime, it can feel frightening and overwhelming. Drehner Law can provide skilled, compassionate guidance to help you navigate the criminal justice system. Attorney Shannon Drehner is a former chief felony prosecutor who deeply understands the legal process and can bring her knowledge and experience to bear in your case.

Juvenile convictions can have a lasting impact on a child’s life, possibly leading to difficulties in employment, education and housing opportunities, and social advancement. Strong legal representation may be vital to mitigating these potential adverse outcomes. Schedule a free initial consultation and learn more about your defense options today by filling out an online intake form or calling 832-626-0063

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