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Gangs are an ongoing problem in Virginia. Many of these groups target the typical teenager who might not have a direction in life or has come from a difficult family situation. The state has clear guidelines on how gangs form and the types of activities they engage in. Young people who are caught up in gang culture run the risk of being charged in the juvenile law system and facing penalties for activities committed by the individual or the group as a whole.

According to the law, a "criminal street gang" consists of three or more people. They commit criminal acts, have certain names or symbols that can be identified and their members have committed, tried to commit or conspired to commit at least two predicate criminal acts with one being violent. Gang activity involving property damage, assault, robbery and other crimes can result in either a Class 4 or 5 felony. It is prohibited for juveniles to be recruited to join a gang by an adult 18-years-old or older and is a Class 6 felony for the adult. Juveniles can face a Class 1 misdemeanor for recruiting others to join a gang. The threat of violence against the individual or the individual's family to join a gang will be a Class 6 felony.

Gang activity in a school zone will result in harsher penalties. This includes any school property or property that is within 1,000 feet of schools or school buses. In some instances, gangs will initiate youth members in various ways. This is also known as hazing. Bodily injury can result from such hazing and it is a Class 1 misdemeanor. The voluntary nature of potential hazing on the part of the victim is irrelevant. The school division superintendent will be informed when a juvenile violates a gang statute. It does not matter whether this activity was on school grounds or not.

Parents, educators and law enforcement are aware of the damage that gangs can do to the individual and the community. Gang members are often accused of numerous criminal activities that can lead to harsh penalties and extensive consequences. In some instances, a youth is forced to partake in these behaviors. When a juvenile is arrested on charges of gang-related activities, having legal assistance is imperative in formulating a defense to avoid long-term problems.

Source:, "Gangs," Accessed July 4, 2015

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