I’m Not in the Mafia, why did I get this charge?? “Organized Criminal Activity”
Engaging in Organized Criminal Activity, otherwise known as the Organized Crime law, is a Texas offense that does not really describe a different kind of criminal activity, but instead increases the severity of the penalty for committing (or conspiring to commit) certain offenses (the underlying offense) if those offenses were committed while a member of a gang or other criminal group known as a “combination.”
The offense of Engaging in Organized Criminal Activity is frequently prosecuted by special prosecutors in a district attorney’s office. In many larger counties, the attorneys who prosecute this offense belong to an Organized Crime Unit in the district attorney’s office. Central to the Engaging in Organized Criminal Activity offense is what constitutes a criminal organization.
There are two types of criminal organizations described:
1) a “criminal street gang” and 2) a “combination.” These are described in more detail below.
WHAT IS A “COMBINATION?”
A “combination” is defined as three or more persons who collaborate in carrying on criminal activities, although: (1) participants may not know each other’s identity; (2) membership in the combination may change from time to time; and (3) participants may stand in a wholesaler-retailer or other arm’s-length relationship in illicit distribution operations.
What does “conspire” mean according to Texas Law?
A conspiracy is essentially an agreement among two or more people regarding some kind of criminal activity. If two people get together and agree that they will commit a robbery tomorrow, they can be convicted of Conspiracy to Commit Robbery even if they never actually do the crime. However, a conspiracy requires some kind of “overt act” in furtherance of the conspiracy. This overt act does not have to be a criminal act, it just has to further an object of the conspiracy. So if the same two people who agreed to rob someone immediately forget about their conversation, laugh it off, and go about their lives as they did before the agreement, they cannot be convicted of a conspiracy. If, however, one of them buys a gun, and that purchase was part of the plan, then they can be convicted of the conspiracy.
“Conspires to commit” is specifically defined in the context of the Texas crime of Engaging in Organized Criminal Activity to mean that “a person agrees with one or more persons that they or one or more of them engage in conduct that would constitute the offense and that person and one or more of them perform an overt act in pursuance of the agreement.”3 It also specifies that “an agreement constituting conspiring to commit may be inferred from the acts of the parties.” This means that even if the state’s attorney’s don’t bring evidence of a verbal or written agreement, they are allowed to try to convince a jury that based on your actions, there must have been one.
What is the penalty for “engaging in organized criminal activity” under Texas Penal Code §71.01?
The penalty for Engaging in Organized Criminal Activity (The Organized Crime Law) depends on the underlying offense. In general, the penalty is typically one degree greater than what the penalty for the underlying offense would be. For instance, if the penalty for the underlying offense is a third-degree felony, then the penalty for a conviction for Engaging in Organized Criminal Activity with the same underlying offense would be a second-degree felony.
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