In People v. Ware, the Supreme Court today finds insufficient evidence to support a conviction for conspiracy to commit murder. The court says that the “conspiracy consisted of a two-year-long agreement among at least 20 gang members to kill members of rival gangs, without agreement as to any specific times, persons, or places where killing would take place” and that “[t]he prosecution . . . sought to tie [the defendant] to the charged conspiracy primarily through evidence of his gang membership, access to weapons, and social media posts celebrating violence against rival gangs.”

Saying it is “particularly critical for courts to carefully distinguish between evidence of mere membership in a gang embroiled in a violent rivalry and evidence sufficient to support a conviction for conspiracy to commit murder,” the court’s unanimous opinion by Justice Leondra Kruger concludes that “absent proof of intent to play some role in achieving the conspiracy’s unlawful goals, neither being a cheerleader nor passively accepting the benefits of others’ unlawful activities constitutes participation in a conspiracy.” Although the defendant “was an active member of a gang whose other members committed acts of violence, that he celebrated those acts of violence, and that he had access to weapons that he could use in furtherance of those acts, if he so chose,” the court holds the evidence “is not sufficient to support a finding that [the defendant] specifically intended to enter an agreement to commit murder, or that he specifically intended to commit murder, either personally or through others.”

The court reverses the Fourth District, Division One, Court of Appeal’s partially published opinion.