In People v. Renteria, the Supreme Court today held expert testimony was insufficient to support a sentence enhancement on the defendant for committing a crime for the benefit of a gang. The defendant, who shot at two houses, was sentenced to two life terms instead of the maximum seven-year sentence that would have been imposed without the enhancement.

Stating that “[n]ot every crime committed by an individual gang member is for the gang’s benefit or to promote criminal conduct by gang members, as the gang enhancement statute requires,” the court’s unanimous opinion by Justice Leondra Kruger concluded, “generalized expert opinion that commission of a particular crime enhances the gang’s power in the community by increasing its reputation for violence falls short” of what’s necessary to support a gang enhancement. “[D]escribing a benefit to the gang is only part of the equation,” the court said, “the prosecution must also establish that the defendant committed the underlying felony with the specific intent to promote, further, or assist criminal conduct by other gang members — a requirement we have described as knowledge of at least some of the criminal activities of the gang and its members and intent to further those activities.”

The court reverses a divided Fifth District Court of Appeal unpublished opinion and it disapproves a 2006 Third District decision.