Gangs are a reality in Chicago. There are state and local laws addressing gang activity. Law enforcement efforts to target gang activity sometimes tread across rights and civil liberties. The criminal justice system is structured to balance and protect these rights and civil liberties.
One example of a lawmaker’s overzealous approach to gangs was reported last month. Senator Mark Kirk made demands that Chicago’s violent street gangs be “crushed.” He specifically called out the Gangster Disciple gang, stating he’s like to do a mass pick-up of all gang members and send them directly to prison.
These comments may spark support for some and outrage from others. The facts are that Senator Kirk has spoken without consideration of the Constitution. No matter if a person is a gang member, senator, teacher, prostitute, or bum; everyone is entitled to equal protection under the law. To claim otherwise is in contravention to several constitutional amendments, off-hand these would be the Due Process Clause, the Free Association Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause. And we’ve all heard the adage, “innocent until proven guilty.” It is the cornerstone of our criminal justice system.
The criminal justice system is complex and subject to local, state, and federal laws as well as rules of court. But citizens should be assured that police cannot just round people up and throw them in jail. The Fourth Amendment must be observed, requiring that police have probable cause to make arrests. Beyond police conduct, prosecutors must have sufficient evidence with which to charge a suspect of wrongdoing.
Due process is a constitutional right that requires everyone subjected to the justice system be treated fairly and in accordance with the law and rules of court. If due process is not followed, this is grounds for dismissal.
Under the Illinois Street Gang and Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Law, participating in a street gang is illegal. Specifically, it is unlawful to intentionally participate either directly or indirectly either by a pattern of conduct, knowingly causing another to participate, or participate in a conspiracy to violate the law. The penalty for violating this law is considered a Class X felony that carries a prison sentence of between 7 and 30 years, with an additional 25 years to life imposed if the gang activity resulted in a death.
In Chicago, the Municipal Code prohibits gang loitering. Gang laws of this type have been subjected to constitutional challenges as being overbroad and vague. Chicago was one such place where that sort of litigation was successful. The Code reads now that police may enforce the law if street gang members are observed in designated areas acting in a manner that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the gang members are attempting to take control of the area, intimidate others from entering the area, or concealing illegal activity in the area. Police may approach gang members and order them to disperse and if they don’t comply may be subject to arrest.
Gang activity implicates other statutes and ordinances depending on the type of conduct at issue, but these laws are specifically targeted at street gangs. Given the public targeting of individuals and ignorance of some to the protections citizens are afforded no matter their associations, it is imperative that you contact a qualified Illinois Criminal Defense Attorney for representation and counsel.