Two areas of criminal activity that are much discussed at the present time are sexual assaults and gang related activity, which sometimes overlap. The State often has an interest when presenting criminal charges in including gang related charges with other crimes. How the Court handles such cases is illustrated by a recent case from Maryland’s intermediate appellate court called Andrez Cortez v. State of Maryland.
The Court’s opinion indicates that Mr. Cortez showed a co-worker a video on his cell phone of three men having sex with a woman who appeared to be “out of it.” The co-worker recognized the voice providing commentary on the tape as the defendant, and he told his boss who called the police. A search of the defendant’s apartment produced another similar video, and witnesses identified the voice as that of Mr. Cortez.
It was apparent from the video that that the videographer not only touched the victim himself, but made comments related to a particular gang and gang members. The Defendant admitted to the police that he had brought this gang to Montgomery County and was a member. The police identified the victim, who became very upset when shown the video. She said she had gone to a party and drunk some beer, but then became very sleepy. She awoke the next day to find she had been robbed, but was not even aware she had been sexually assaulted.
The State charged Cortez with three sex offenses, and also for participating in gang related activity. The defense attorney asked that the gang charge be set for a separate trial, arguing that the sex offenses were separate allegations and it was too prejudicial for the jury to also hear about a gang. The trial judge ordered one trial on all charges, and the defendant was convicted. The appellate court upheld the decision to try the gang related charges with all the other crimes.
The Court noted that whether to order a separate trial on charges depends upon 1) whether the same evidence would be admissible in both trials, and 2) whether the interest of judicial economy in trying related charges from the same facts was outweighed by other considerations. Here, the Court found that gang related evidence was relevant to motive and identity of the defendant, and upheld holding one trial in this case. This illustrates how gang related charges may also support prosecution for related crimes.