In fact, bifurcation of criminal street gang enhancements reduces the time needed to try the underlying offense and, to the extent trials result in hung juries or acquittal at the initial phase and do not advance to the second trial phase, there will be a net savings of court time. Further, the gang enhancement often is based almost entirely on the testimony of a gang expert. (See People v. Gardeley (1996) 14 Cal.4th 605, 617-620.) Even where the same expert testifies at the trial of the underlying offense, we perceive no great inconvenience in requiring an expert witness to testify at a second trial phase.
g. Application here.
As with motions for severance, we initially evaluate the trial court’s ruling on a request for bifurcation in light of the showings made and facts known at the time the motion was made. (People v. Balderas, supra, 41 Cal.3d at p. 171.) Here, the information charged appellants with robbery and attempted carjacking. The robbery count was based on the allegation appellants forcibly removed Rodriguez’s necklace at knife-point. The attempted carjacking count was based on Hernandez’s threat to take Stepanyan’s Honda if appellants did not receive an adequate amount of money.
In order to prove that Fuentes and Hernandez took Rodriguez’s property by means of force or fear, the trial court properly ruled the People were entitled to prove the nature of the threat, “You don’t know who you’re dealing with. You are dealing with Hawthorne Little [Watts],” in order to show the force or fear element of robbery. Thus, the trial court correctly determined that some gang evidence would have been admissible at a trial of the underlying offenses to prove the robbery charge.
However, the People proved the threat without the expert gang testimony that the individual who made the threat was, in fact, a gang member who was affiliated with the largest gang in the state, had gang tattoos and that gang members commit crimes as a way of life in order to terrorize law abiding citizens. Because the People could not have introduced this gang enhancement evidence at a separate trial of the charged offenses, it was not cross-admissible.