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Gangs

Background, Federal Law, State Law, Do Anti-gang Laws Violate The Constitution?, Local Ordinances

The rise in gang violence since the 1980s caused lawmakers to seek a variety of methods to curb the formation and activities of these gangs. According to statistics from the National Youth Gang Center, more than 24,500 gangs, consisting of more than 770,000 members, exist in about 3,330 cities in the United States. Congress spends as much as $20 billion per year in HEALTH CARE costs treating victims of gunshot wounds, and many of the incidents involving guns also involve street and other types of gangs.

A gang is sometimes difficult to define, especially in legal terms. Although gangs typically involve a congregation of individuals, primarily young males, certainly not all congregations or informal gatherings of young individuals constitute gangs. Definitions of gangs or street gangs vary among the laws governing them. Alabama law, for example, defines a "streetgang" as, "[A]ny combination, confederation, alliance, network, conspiracy, understanding, or similar arrangement in law or in fact, of three or more persons that, through its membership or through the agency of any member, engages in a course or pattern of criminal activity." Ala. Code § 13A-6-26 (2002).

Congress, state legislatures, and municipal governments have responded to the growing tide of gangs by considering a variety of bills addressing gang violence. Although efforts at the federal level have largely been unsuccessful, many states and municipalities have enacted laws designed to deter gang-related violence. Several of these statutes and ordinances have been fashioned as anti-loitering statutes, which often raise FIRST AMENDMENT concerns. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1999 made it more difficult for municipalities to draft gang loitering ordinances when it found that an ordinance such as this in the city of Chicago was unconstitutional. City of Chicago v. Morales, 527 U.S. 41, 119 S. Ct. 1849, 144 L. Ed. 2d 67 (1999).

CROSS-REFERENCES

Racketeering; Vagrancy.

Additional topics

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