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ACLU Wins Gang Injunction Suit, but Ruling Won't Affect San Juan, S.C.

The Orange County district attorney says a recent federal ruling will not impact the gang injunctions in San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente.

San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano will be unaffected by a recent ruling that found Orange County authorities violated the constitutional rights of dozens of suspected gang members by enforcing a gang injunction, an assistant district attorney told Patch Thursday.

The ruling is believed to be the first federal court decision regarding gang injunctions. Orange County Assistant District Attorney John Anderson, who supervises the gang unit, said the ruling only covers the approximately 50 people in the lawsuit, so its reach is minimal. 

"Your communities can rest assured that the injunctions in place will remain in place and that the D.A. and sheriff will continue to make the communities a safer place," Anderson told Patch.

U.S. District Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank's ruling Tuesday settles a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Southern California in September 2009. The ACLU argued that that gang injunctions violated due process rights because when defendants challenged a temporary injunction, their cases were dismissed but they were then named in a permanent injunction.

The injunction prohibited gang members in certain parts of the city from associating in public and engaging in other activities that are normally legal. Similar injunctions are in place in San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente, where sparring between two rival gangs have resulted in rapes, murders and other assaults.

In Orange, the injunction only prohibits suspected gang members from some activities in a zone that covers about 19 percent of the city.

"Ironically, tragically, criminal street gang members—compliments of the ACLU—now have more constitutional protection than labor union members, war opponents and abortion protesters,'' Anderson said.

ACLU attorney Peter Bibring told the Associated Press that the ruling has implications for cities and the way they use gang injunctions to restrict the activities of suspected gang members.

"Any jurisdiction that employs gang injunctions should take a look at their practices following this ruling and see if they're consistent with the Constitution," Bibring told AP.

Anderson disagreed."We think that state law allows us to do exactly what we did. ... We don’t feel like there was any due process violation. As a result of that we’re going to appeal to the 9th District." 

- City News Service and Adam Townsend contributed to this report.

CE May 13, 2011 at 04:23 PM
Thanks for this article. I still don't understand, though, why the ruling won't apply to SC and SJC. It sounds like it's "because Anderson says so," which as far as I know is not a *real* reason.
Adam Townsend May 13, 2011 at 05:29 PM
We're continuing to look into this matter. What I can say is that the federal ruling in the Orange case centered on plaintiffs who had not necessarily been convicted in court of being gang members, but had been included in the gang injunction at the discretion of law enforcement authorities. It is possible that the injunctions in San Juan and San Clemente are structured differently, but that is unclear at this time. Look back in the next week or so for a more thorough examination of the gang injunctions in San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano.
daffodil altan May 13, 2011 at 06:53 PM
Hi there, I covered this story extensively while I worked as a reporter at the OC Weekly several years ago, both in SJC/SC and in Orange. You can meet some of the alleged gang members in my stories and get a better understanding for why these blanket injunctions are so problematic. Many of those named on these *permanent injunctions in all three cities had either no charges or only misdemeanor juvenile charges on their records, but they were still deemed gang members, subjected to a permanent injunction with criminal consequences if violated, and not allowed to defend themselves in court. One of the lead plaintiffs in this current ACLU case was a community college student with no gang involvement who was added to the Orange injunction. He was featured in my story below, which also includes DA Jon Anderson. Too often the assumption is that if the DA/sheriff's dept/PD have decided that someone is a gang member, then they must be. But the rules for determining whether someone is or isn't a gang member are quite arbitrary and subjective, and therefore placement on such a permanent injunction without a chance to defend oneself is a constitutional violation for anyone accused. Please take some time to learn more about this issue via the OCW's in-depth coverage. Thanks! Daffodil Altan (former OCW reporter; daffodilj@yahoo.com) Orange's Barrio Cypress Residents Fought the DA's Gang Injunction—and Won (Sort Of) http://www.ocweekly.com/2009-05-28/news/barrio-cypress-orange/
Adam Townsend May 13, 2011 at 07:26 PM
Thanks, Daffodil! I always enjoyed reading your stuff when I was working for the Orange County Register. Were you on staff at the Weekly when Spencer Kornhaber was working there? He launched the Lake Forest Patch before taking a job with The Atlantic in Washington, D.C. just this month.
CE May 13, 2011 at 11:36 PM
I think Daffodil was gone before Spencer joined the Weekly. Daffodil, I remember your article very well, and thank you for commenting on this one and linking to your earlier article. Adam, I'm not an authority on the gang injunctions but my sense is this: the inclusion of individuals in the injunction is determined by law enforcement (sheriff/police and the DA) and okayed by a judge. However, as Daffodil points out, it's possible for individuals with pretty minor ties to gangs to be included in the injunction. I believe what happened in Orange is that some individuals got themselves removed from the injunction but were later still targeted. As a result, a judge ruled that individuals can no longer be included in the injunction simply because law enforcement says so (with the agreement of a judge). Rather, each individual case must be examined on its own. (As I say I'm no expert but this is what I gather from what I've read.) Now that the judge has ruled the way he has, precedent has been created, and next time something like this comes into court the injunction will be found to be faulty. And I think the reason Anderson is saying it doesn't apply to other cities such as SJC and SC is that no case has yet been brought to court to which the precedent can be applied. But IMO it's only a matter of time before it happens. (Again, all my personal non-expert opinion only.)

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