I've written about it before, but it's become ever more absurd where I practice law. As noted in this Los Angeles Times article, the Los Angeles DA is filing ever more cases with "gang allegations" against people, no matter what the case, increasing exponentially the amount of time people are getting in prison.
First of all, what am I talking about? California has passed a number of laws aimed at gang members over the years, generally in Penal Code Section 186.22. They have basically made it so that if a gang member commits a crime, the punishment is significantly larger than if any other member of society does it. Fair enough, one may say, gang members are wreaking havoc on society.
But, consider the effects. 18 year old kids who spray graffiti on a wall are suddenly being punished not with misdemeanors and a few hours of community service, or even a little bit of jail, but with felonies. And not just any felonies, but due to the gang allegation, the charges are now "strikes" (meaning that for the rest of the kid's life, he faces prison for any offense, no matter how minor, and possibly 25-life for even the most minor of offenses. This follows him forever). Furthermore, they face mandatory PRISON when convicted in most cases (that's to be contrasted with county jail, which people normally get). The prison minimum is generally at least 3 years 8 months, and can go up to 8, 9, 10 years for some of these extremely minor offenses.
Again, we hate gang members, so what the hell, they deserve more than the average person, right? That's the general consensus among society.
However, it gets even worse. Due to the fact that there is this "allegation," it must be proven to the jury. How is that proven to the jury? A police officer ("gang cop") gets on the stand and talks about how evil gangs are in general, how evil this gang is, and all of the terrible things the gang has done. They talk about what great ties this person has to the gang, what his nickname is, and generally slimes him by association with others and the things that they have done.
So consider a robbery case, one committed by a gang member, another committed by a non-gang member (or a gang member against whom the prosecution chose not to pursue the gang allegation). In the case without the gang allegation, the prosecution must prove that this person committed the offense, and if identity is not very strong, the person may very well be acquitted due to the weaknesses in the identification.
In the case of the defendant with the gang allegation, the prosecution will also present a huge amount of evidence that will amount to, not only bad character evidence, but, even worse, character assassination using guilt by association. The identification against the person may be weak, but no matter, the jury will hear all of this evidence about what a bad person this defendant is, if only by way of his associations, and will feel that where there is smoke, there must be fire.
Think about how insidious this is when the prosecution starts seeking more gang allegations against people. This means that more and more people will be charged with exceptionally weak cases, with the prosecution knowing that these people would never be convicted absent the gang allegation. Or, you get cases where the prosecution wants someone so badly that they file gang allegations on people who have weak cases just to strengthen the substantive guilt part of the case.
The net result, more innocent people convicted, more cynical presentations to the jury ("he's a gang member, convict him or else he'll go out and do a drive-by in your neighborhood"), longer prison sentences for less and less serious charges. More people saddled with strikes that result in life sentences later for ever more minor offenses. People who make minor mistakes as kids that they used to be able to outgrow now following people forever, with no chance of redemption.
I can't tell you how many ex-gang members there are out there in society who are making good with their lives in their mid-20's into their 30's and beyond. They are all over, although you probably don't notice them anymore. They could be waiting on your table, or supplying the restaurant that you go to, or even could be your professor at college. These 2nd chances are a hallmark of democratic society that allows for people to move from one strata of society to another. By taking these chances away from kids when they are very young, forever, we risk creating a permanent underclass, and worse. We risk pushing people like this into permanent gang status (they have no incentive to leave because no other part of society will ever take them) or warehousing them forever for even the most minor types of offenses imaginable.
So, there are very real world consequences for these idiotic choices that the prosecution have engaged in pursuing excessive gang allegations against these teenagers. And it is only going to get worse, in the minds of prosecutors, these are not people, only low-lying fruit that is ripe for easy picking.