What does “Urban, Prison and Gang Culture” mean?
The term “Gang Expert” has been used in the legal system for decades and is a well established term that I too use as a form of shorthand. The problem is, it can be viewed in a narrow context of only being relevant when gang charges or a specific criminal street gang component are involved. My non-traditional life, work and academic experiences have equipped me to offer a qualified opinion in cases that transcend that framework. I do not use “urban” in the context of race but rather a particular culture that may be found in densely populated, under-resourced and over-policed communities. Prison has a culture of it’s own which is influenced by prison gangs but is not identical to gang culture in the streets. Essentially, it is a title that rightfully broadens the scope of things I am qualified to address, on a case-by-case basis of course.
Is a gang expert necessary?
If someone is charged with a gang enhancement or with the crime of being an affiliate of a gang then yes, I would encourage you to seek the council of a gang expert. Prosecutors routinely use a gang expert, normally a current or former police officer, for the same reasons that a defendant should have one. A good gang expert will help to ensure justice under the law no matter which side of the courtroom they sit. As a gang expert I do not frame factual issues for the jury to decide-no expert should. I provide contextual information about the culture of gangs, behavior traits of affiliates and foundational knowledge as it pertains to a specific gang or demographic. The validity and accuracy of what a true expert contributes to a case should not change based on which “team” they are retained by.
What if the suspect is clearly a gang affiliate and/or the crime is obviously gang related ?
I have worked on cases which fit this description and attorneys have still welcomed the background information, cultural competency and meticulous dissecting of Discovery that I, and any competent gang expert, provide. These services can aid in preparing to cross-examine the prosecution’s gang expert, help in seeking a plea arrangement, provide mitigating factors for sentencing and sometimes reveal information that alters charges or open up new defense strategies. From a prosecutors standpoint, using a gang expert may bring some clarity to things which perhaps should be obvious but are not.
Have I ever refused to take a case?
Yes. I have also made clear in other cases that I refuse to agree with the defense’s proposed scenario. This is not a frequent occurrence as the overwhelming majority of attorneys seek my services precisely because of the credibility and integrity I bring to every case. I have never been sought out to aid in the prosecution of a case; most likely because it is standard for prosecutors to use active-duty law enforcement.
What is my view of gangs?
I certainly believe that criminal street gangs exist and are a threat to society. I also believe that there must be consequences when someone breaks the law. In my many years of dealing with gang-influenced people and communities I have consistently held the position that I will help any gang member make a positive change in their life but I will never help any criminal street gang. To deal with a gang as a whole is to honor the institution of the gang and give it a form of social legitimacy that is undeserved and unhealthy. When it comes to the criminal justice system I believe very strongly that to convict someone of a crime or link them to a criminal group the prosecution has the responsibility to prove their case. The gang component of a case tends to hinge on the interpretation of factors by a gang expert. Sometimes they are right. Sometimes they are not. I see my role as one of an objective expert. I seek to do my part in advancing the integrity of the criminal justice system by holding other gang experts accountable for the conclusions they make in a manner very similar to the peer review that scientists and other academics go through.
What makes me different than other gang experts?
Every prosecutor I have seen uses active-duty law enforcement from the Gang Task Force or local department of the suspect. I obviously do not meet that criteria and thus have not been sought after by them. Most, if not all, gang experts available to defense attorneys come from a law enforcement or high level academic background. Many of them are qualified and have helped ensure justice and equality for their clients. Nevertheless we have some distinct differences. Retired law enforcement officers have an expertise rooted in the same worldview, training and experiences as their counterparts on the prosecution side. While they are willing to challenge their former colleagues they often have a limited capacity to see the evidence through a different lens. It is not about “picking a side” but it is a matter of having the capacity to see and interpret information from a comprehensively unbiased standpoint. Academics are well versed in their field of study but, according to several different attorneys, are among the least liked expert witnesses in the eyes of the jury. This certainly does not apply to every academic but in general they tend to speak in abstract theories and in such an intellectual manner that juries have a hard time nailing down their sincerity or where they really stand. The concern becomes, “Is this person merely crafting an opinion that will get them compensated by the legal team?” I believe most academic gang experts are exceedingly ethical but it is a burden that comes along with the foundation of their expertise. I am an intelligent, well spoken person. I am intimately familiar with the research into deviant behavior and social theories surrounding gangs as well as the law enforcement perspective. I also have lived the life in and out of prison and have become an accomplished leader in community-based violence prevention/gang intervention. Very few people bring the range of relevant qualifications to a case.
Do I work outside California?
What gangs am I an expert on?
I am qualified to speak in-depth about Norteno/Northerners, Sureno/Southerners, MS13, Bloods, Crips, neighborhood “Turf” gangs not affiliated with an umbrella organization, Border Brother/Mexican National gangs, all major CA Prison Gangs (Nuestra Familia, Northern Structure, Mexican Mafia, Aryan Brotherhood, Nazi Low Riders, Black Guerilla Family/Jamma, 415/Kumi) as well as “degenerate gangs” such as Northern Riders and 2-5. I have a working knowledge of Asian and Pacific Islander gangs as well as loosely knit White Supremacist groups. I am less informed, though not ignorant, on traditionally East Coast/MidWest gangs such as those which fall under the umbrella of People Nation or Folk Nation. With that said, there is a commonality which exists in the gang-influenced mindset that transcends ethnicity and geography. That is not to dismiss the nuances as irrelevant but I can generally get up to speed on any gang or disruptive group nationwide to a level sufficient enough to aid a case. If I do not feel qualified, I have no reservations about making that clear. I would rather the client get the best representation, even if that is not me.
How much do I charge?
It depends. Some county bar associations set the rate for gang experts used by court-appointed counsel. For privately retained attorneys I generally ask for a retainer that is equal to half of the expected workload. I have standard rates for DACA applications as well as tattoo evaluation and will make price sheets available on request. For case work I generally fall in the $150 p/hr range, noticeably less than many others in this field. The work I do is specialized and high quality thus I have no problem being compensated for it however I would prefer finances not be a barrier to justice and am therefore pretty flexible. Being a gang expert in the legal arena is not my exclusive source of income. Each attorney I have ever worked with can attest to my ethical billing.
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