Legal Memorandum: Admissibility of Gang Affiliations

Issue: Under Illinois law, in a criminal trial, under what circumstances should a court determine that the admission of evidence of defendant’s gang-related history will deprive him of a fair trial?

Area of Law: Criminal Law, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Admissibility of evidence; Defendant's gang affiliations; Fair trial
Jurisdiction: Illinois
Cited Cases: 506 U.S. 1082; 402 U.S. 972; 510 U.S. 879
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 02/01/2001

As early as 1970, the Illinois Supreme Court recognized that in order to “prevent the conviction of one accused of a crime merely because of his membership in an organization that is unpopular,” gang affiliation evidence is admissible “only if there is also sufficient proof to show that membership is related to the crime charged.”  People v. Hairston, 46 Ill. 2d 348, 372 (1970), cert. denied, 402 U.S. 972 (1971).  See also People v. Goldsberry, 259 Ill. App. 3d 11, 16 (1st Dist.) (“Evidence . . . which tend[s] to suggest that a criminal defendant has gang affiliations, pose[es] unique problems when offered in a case tried before a jury because, as the courts have acknowledged, ‘there is a deep, bitter and widespread prejudice against street gangs in every metropolitan area in America.'” (quoting People v. Parrott, 40 Ill. App. 3d 328, 331 (1st Dist. 1976)), appeal denied, 157 Ill. 2d 511 (1994). 

Subsequent supreme court and appellate court decisions have repeatedly reaffirmed the principle that although “[e]vidence indicating defendant was a gang member or involved in gang-related activity is generally held to be admissible to show common purpose or design, or to provide a motive for an otherwise inexplicable act,” it “is only admissible where there is sufficient proof that membership or activity is related to the crime charged.”  People v. Patterson, 154 Ill. 2d 414, 458 (1992) (citing State v. Smith, 141 Ill. 2d 40, 58 (1990)), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 879 (1993).  Accord People […]

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