Gang Related Charges: Phoenix Criminal Defense Lawyer

two members of a criminal gang

In Arizona law, it's crucial to distinguish between being affiliated with a gang and actively participating in its criminal activities.


While being a member of a gang is not inherently illegal, involvement in the gang's criminal activities is punishable.


Key legislation, such as Arizona Revised Statute §13-2321, targets behaviors that support a gang's criminal objectives, leading to enhanced penalties for crimes deemed gang-related. 


Kolsrud Law Offices, led by experienced federal criminal defense attorney Joshua Kolsrud, offers expert legal representation in these complex cases. The firm's background in federal criminal law, combined with its commitment to client accessibility and language inclusivity, makes it a strong ally for those facing gang-related charges.


For more information or to schedule a free initial consultation, you can visit Kolsrud Law Offices' contact page.

Contact us today to schedule a
how we can help you.

Is Gang Affiliation Illegal?

In Arizona, the legality of gang affiliation versus active participation in gang activities is addressed in Arizona Revised Statute §13-2321.


This law specifies a clear line between mere gang affiliation and criminal involvement. Specifically, it defines crimes such as organizing, managing, or directing a criminal street gang with the intent to promote or further its criminal objectives.


Furthermore, inciting violence or intimidation to further a gang's criminal goals, or assisting in the gang's criminal activities, are also classified as criminal acts.


Participating in a criminal street gang is categorized as a class 2 felony while assisting a gang is a class 3 felony.


Thus, while being affiliated with a gang is not illegal, any active involvement in its criminal endeavors or assisting in these activities is punishable under Arizona law.

evidence of gang involvement

How Does Arizona Define a Criminal Street Gang

Arizona Revised Statute §13-105 provides a specific definition for a criminal street gang. According to this statute, a criminal street gang is an ongoing formal or informal association of persons whose primary activities include the commission of criminal offenses, requiring that at least two of the following seven criteria be met to indicate gang membership:


  1. Self-Proclamation: An individual openly declares or admits to being a member of a street gang.
  2. Witness Testimony or Official Statement: There is evidence from witnesses or official statements (such as police reports) that identifies the individual as a gang member.
  3. Written or Electronic Correspondence: Evidence of communication, whether in written form or through electronic means, that indicates gang affiliation.
  4. Paraphernalia or Photographs: Possession of items or the presence in photographs that suggest gang affiliation, such as specific symbols or items that are known to be associated with a particular gang.
  5. Tattoos: Having tattoos that are symbolic or indicative of gang membership.
  6. Clothing or Colors: Wearing clothing, jewelry, or colors that are typically associated with a specific street gang.
  7. Other Indicia of Street Gang Membership: Any other evidence that could reasonably suggest gang membership. This could include, but is not limited to, frequent association with known gang members, involvement in activities typical of gang behavior, or residing in a known gang territory.

These criteria establish an individual’s affiliation with a criminal street gang under Arizona law, playing a crucial role in legal proceedings related to gang-related activities and charges.

threat and intimidation laws in Arizona

Threat and Intimidation Laws in Arizona

The Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.) §13-1202 outlines specific scenarios where threatening or intimidating behavior can result in legal charges:


  1. Physical Injury or Property Damage Threats: This includes threats of causing physical injury to another person or causing serious damage to someone else's property.
  2. Causing Public Inconvenience: The law also covers actions that might lead to serious public inconvenience, such as evacuating a building or a public transportation facility.
  3. Gang-Related Threats: If the threat or intimidation is made to promote or assist in the activities of a criminal street gang, a criminal syndicate, or a racketeering enterprise, it's considered more severe.

For gang members, such actions can escalate to a class 6 felony, reflecting the serious nature of these offenses under Arizona law.

example of criminal syndicate

Differences Between a Gang and a Criminal Syndicate

In Arizona law, distinguishing between a gang and a criminal syndicate is critical for legal classification and prosecution, as they differ in structure, activities, and scale.


Gangs are typically less formal, often forming around common interests or locations, and are known for street-level crimes like drug trafficking, assault, and vandalism. For instance, a Phoenix street gang might engage in neighborhood drug sales and turf wars.


In contrast, criminal syndicates display a higher level of organization, with a clear hierarchy and a focus on large-scale and sophisticated criminal activities. These include racketeering, large-scale fraud, human trafficking, and money laundering. An example would be a syndicate operating a complex money laundering scheme across multiple states.


Legally, gang involvement might lead to charges for specific crimes committed as part of the gang, with enhanced penalties under Arizona Revised Statute §13-2321 if the crime is gang-related.


Conversely, involvement in a criminal syndicate often results in racketeering charges under A.R.S. §13-2308, reflecting the organized and extensive nature of the criminal activities. 

defense strategies for gang-related charges

Defense Strategies For Gang-Related Charges

Defending against gang-related charges requires a strategic approach tailored to the specific circumstances of each case.


Key defense strategies often include:


  • Challenging the Gang Affiliation: Attorneys may argue that the accused's connection to the gang was overstated or misconstrued.
  • Disputing the Evidence: Defense lawyers can scrutinize the evidence presented by the prosecution, challenging its validity or relevance.
  • Questioning Witness Credibility: Attorneys might challenge the reliability or motives of witnesses claiming gang affiliation or involvement.
  • Mitigating Circumstances: Highlighting factors that mitigate the accused's actions, like lack of intent or coercion, can be vital.
  • Negotiating Plea Deals: In some cases, negotiating plea agreements for lesser charges can be a practical approach.
  • Proving Lack of Knowledge: Demonstrating that the accused was unaware of the gang's criminal objectives.
  • Alibi Evidence: Presenting evidence that the defendant was not present at the time of the alleged gang-related activity.
  • Constitutional Defenses: Arguing violations of constitutional rights, such as unlawful search and seizure, or improper police conduct.
  • Independent Action: Asserting that the accused's actions were independent and not related to gang activities.

Each defense strategy depends on the case's unique aspects and the evidence available.

Frequently Asked Questions on Arizona's Gang-Related Laws

  • What is the legal consequence of promoting or furthering the criminal objectives of a criminal street gang in Arizona?

    • Promoting or furthering the criminal objectives of a criminal street gang in Arizona can result in severe legal consequences, potentially being charged as a class 2 felony, depending on the nature and severity of the actions.

  • How does the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office prosecute gang crimes?

    • The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office aggressively prosecutes gang crimes, often pursuing the most severe charges applicable under state law, including enhanced sentencing for gang-related offenses.

  • What role do law enforcement agencies play in combating gang crimes in Arizona?

    • Law enforcement agencies in Arizona play a critical role in identifying and combating gang crimes, working collaboratively with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and other legal bodies to investigate and prosecute such offenses.

  • If charged with a gang-related offense in Arizona, what legal representation options are available?

    • Individuals charged with gang-related offenses in Arizona should seek legal representation from a qualified criminal defense lawyer, especially those experienced in handling gang-related cases and familiar with Arizona state law.

  • How does the Arizona Supreme Court view gang-related offenses?

    • The Arizona Supreme Court views gang-related offenses seriously, often upholding stringent penalties for convictions to deter gang activities and enhance public safety.

  • What does it mean if a sentence is commuted in a gang-related case in Arizona?

    • If a sentence is commuted in a gang-related case in Arizona, it means that the original sentence imposed has been reduced or altered, which can occur under certain circumstances, such as an appeal or a demonstration of rehabilitation.

  • What defense strategies can be used for someone charged with participating in a criminal street gang?

    • Defense strategies for someone charged with participating in a criminal street gang in Arizona might include challenging the evidence of gang involvement, disproving the intent to commit gang-related crimes, or negotiating plea agreements.

  • How does Arizona law define the management of a criminal street gang?

    • Arizona law defines the management of a criminal street gang as directing, organizing, or playing a key role in the operation and criminal activities of the gang, which can include strategizing criminal endeavors or coordinating members’ actions.

How Kolsrud Law Can Help If You've Been Charged

At Kolsrud Law Offices in Phoenix, Arizona, Joshua Kolsrud's expertise, especially in handling federal criminal defense, is particularly relevant for clients facing gang-related charges.


Gang-related charges can involve various federal statutes, given their potential links to organized crime, drug trafficking, and other federal offenses. Kolsrud's experience in federal prosecution equips him with the knowledge and strategic insight needed to tackle these cases effectively.


His skill set is particularly valuable in cases where gang allegations might escalate to federal charges, requiring a defense strategy that is well-versed in both state and federal law.


Moreover, Kolsrud Law Offices' commitment to accessibility and language proficiency is essential in gang-related cases, which often involve diverse communities. The ability to offer legal services in both English and Spanish ensures that clients receive clear and comprehensible legal guidance, regardless of their linguistic background.


If you or someone you know is facing gang-related charges and needs expert legal representation, you can reach out to Kolsrud Law Offices for a free initial consultation. For more details or to schedule a consultation, you can call them at (602) 638-3790.

An award-winning criminal defense attorney Since 2006

Why Choose Josh Kolsrud

With over 100 trials to his name, and years of experience as a state and federal prosecutor, Josh understands the law, the legal process, and your rights. Josh is also committed to representing every client with utmost integrity and dedication



Josh has prosecuted major crimes on the state and federal level, led a successful anti-human sex trafficking operation that saved lives, and argued before countless juries and justices for his clients



Josh is an expert in both Arizona and federal criminal law, and is ready to put that expertise to work for you.



As a prosecutor, Josh saw far too many defendants lose their livelihood due to poor representation. Josh will always give every client his complete attention and effort

Get a Free Initial Consultation:

Complete our form below to get a free case review.
or call us at (480) 999-9444.