Constitutionality of the STEP Act

General Principles
  1. Under the Fifth Amendment Due Process clause, criminal liability requires personal guilt. (Scales v. United States (1961) 367 US 203; People v. Castenada (2000) 23 Cal.4th 743.)

  2. Right of Association (1st Amend.) - Blanket prohibition of association with a group having both legal and illegal aims, would create danger that legitimate political expression or association would be impaired. (Scales.)

  3. Due Process Vagueness. Due process requires that "[a]ll ... be informed as to what the State commands or forbids. [Fn. omitted.]" (Lanzetta v. New Jersey (1939) 306 U.S. 451, 453.) "[T]he terms of a penal statute creating a new offense must be sufficiently explicit to inform those who are subject to it what conduct on their part will render them liable to its penalties ...."  (Id. at 453 (citing Connally v. General Construction Co., 269 U.S. 385, 391).)
Applied to STEP Act
  1. "Under Scales, the due process requirement that criminal liability rest on personal guilt means simply that a person convicted for active membership in a criminal organization must entertain "guilty knowledge and intent" of the organization's criminal purposes." (People v. Castenada (2000) 23 Cal.4th 743, 749.) The STEP Act substantive crime of active participation in a criminal street gang (186.22(a)) satisfies the due process requirement of personal guilt by requiring proof, of not only active participation, but also that the defendant acted with knowledge that the gang members engage in a pattern of criminal gang activity, and that the defendant “willfully promotes, furthers, or assists in any felonious criminal conduct by members of that gang.” (Id.)

  2. STEP Act not unconstitutionally vague or overbroad: "[O]ur STEP Act does not criminalize mere gang membership; rather, it imposes increased criminal penalties only when the criminal conduct is felonious and committed not only 'for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with' a group that meets the specific statutory conditions of a 'criminal street gang,' but also with the 'specific intent to promote, further, or assist in any criminal conduct by gang members.' (§ 186.22, subd. (b)(1).) These detailed requirements fully comport with due process." (People v. Gardeley (1996) 14 Cal.4th 605, 623-624, distinguishing Lanzetta v. New Jersey (1939) 306 U.S. 451, overruled on other grounds in People v. Sanchez (2016) 63 Cal.4th 665, fn. 13.)

  3. Not so overboard or vague that it violates freedom of association or speech. (People v. Gamez (1991) 235 Cal.App.3d 957, 969-973, overruled on other grounds in Gardeley, 14 Cal.4th at 624, fn.10.)