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While the First Amendment provides the freedom to associate, people often wonder about whether gang affiliation is a crime or considered free association. Generally, being a member of a gang is not in and of itself illegal; however, it is likely to lead to illegal activity which is generally punished more harshly if there is a gang affiliation. This is because many states define gangs as groups that include a purpose of committing crimes or illegal acts. However, as history has shown, figuring out who is actually in a gang is not easy.

To fight the gang problem, a majority of states have gang enhancements that can be applied to other criminal charges that will typically make the punishment, if convicted, stricter. Additionally, state and federal law enforcement maintain gang member databases, so that law enforcement can more easily determine if a suspect, arrestee, or detainee is a current or former gang member. While it may be legal to be a member, when a gang injunction has been issued, then being a gang member out in public, or even being misidentified as a gang member in public, can lead to arrest and/or prosecution.

Using a stolen credit card is a serious crime that carries serious penalties. Even if the card was not stolen, per se, but rather found on the sidewalk, using the card is still illegal in all 50 states. Unlike using stolen or found cash, using a stolen credit card involves an act of fraud on top of theft, on top of the underlying theft of the card potentially.

Like most criminal statutes, the laws prohibiting using a stolen credit card vary from state to state. Some states have stricter penalties than others. Most states however do differentiate between when using a stolen credit card is a misdemeanor or felony. Sometimes, if the value of the goods or services purchased were below a certain threshold, a prosecutor can opt to charge a lesser crime, such as petty larceny or petty theft, which typically are misdemeanors. However, if the value exceeds the state’s misdemeanor threshold, or there were multiple cards involved, it is likely that felony charges will be brought.

First Time Misdemeanor Offense

There are a lot of ‘first times’ to look forward to in life, but catching your first misdemeanor charge is not one of them. Being charged with a misdemeanor offense is not something to take lightly. You can go to jail, face serious fines, and endure severe life disruptions that can have an effect on your family, career, friendships, and other obligations.

At the outset, there are a few things you should know. To start, being charged with a misdemeanor does not mean you are guilty. The prosecutor must prove guilt. If you were arrested and/or booked into custody prior to the charges being brought, then you will have an arrest record, but not a criminal record. If you are convicted, or even accept a plea bargain, then you will have a criminal record.

In an effort to help control the recidivism rates of inmates, states are beginning to adopt the practice of 'flash incarceration.' Flash incarceration is the practice of locking up parole violators for short periods of time for violating the terms of their parole. The periods of time can range from one to ten days, and states like Hawaii, California, and Washington have seen some success with the practice.

While sending a parole violator to jail for a couple nights for returning a positive drug test may sound lenient to some, the fact of the matter is that sometimes a violation will go completely unpunished. Under the flash incarceration practices, every violation is punished with a short term in jail. Also, the punishment is frequently handed out swiftly, without requiring a parole revocation hearing.

While the crimes of grand theft auto and joyriding may seem like the same thing, there is an important distinction between the two. The amount of time that the thief intends to dispossess the owner of their vehicle makes all the difference.

Simply put: joyriding is when a person takes a car without the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle. Grand theft auto (GTA) requires the intent to permanently deprive the owner of their vehicle.

Prescription drugs can save lives. Then can also be addictive and potentially deadly. And the line between legitimately filling a prescription and abusing the system to sell pills for profit is sometimes so thin as to be invisible.

So what's the difference between having the prescription pills you need and having enough prescription pills to open up an illicit pharmacy? Here's what you need to know about criminal prescription drug charges and penalties.

You may have heard the phrase 'for-profit prisons' in reference to private prison companies contracting with state and local governments to detain convicts. You may have also heard that this arrangement can lead to some perverse incentives on the part of private companies, whose profits are tied to the number of people in prison.

What you may not have heard about is for-profit probation, whereby private companies monitor offenders, charge them for the privilege, and can even petition that they be sent to jail if they can't pay. This system can also lead to a perverse set of incentives, which is why the American Bar Association is asking that it be abolished.

You may have heard recently that universities and the federal government are working to remove barriers for college hopefuls with criminal records. While this may be welcome news to those with youthful indiscretions in their past or those trying to turn lives around, there remains one crucial hurdle left: financial aid.

Even if someone with a criminal conviction on their record is accepted to college, he or she may not be able to afford it without help, and a drug conviction especially can make securing a student loan far more difficult.

Hope for the Wrongfully Convicted: Exonerations Are on the Rise

Last year more than 151 people were exonerated after spending an average of 15 years in prison, despite being innocent. Some were sentenced to death and pardoned before the ultimate punishment.

This reveals something about the criminal justice system. That is why, according to the National Registry of Exonerations at the University of Michigan Law School, increasingly even prosecuting offices are focusing on innocence to regain public trust. What does that mean for all of us or you individually if you've been falsely convicted?

Tennessee Gang Enhancement Statute Found Unconstitutional

In an effort to target gang violence, states create statutes that punish gang-related crime more severely than other offenses. Enhancement statutes are used as a tool in plea negotiations by prosecutors and in sentencing by judges.

But now one such law in Tennessee has been struck down as overly-broad and unconstitutional, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel, which means that defendants sentenced under this statute will need new hearings. Let's look at why it was unconstitutional and who might get a new hearing.