Bill Seeks Legal Aid for Targets of Gang Orders
January 13, 2000, Los Angeles Times
By: MIGUEL BUSTILLO and RICH CONNELL, TIMES STAFF WRITERS
In legislation linked to the ongoing corruption scandal in the Los Angeles Police Department’s Rampart Division, state Sen. Tom Hayden is proposing that indigent alleged gang members named in anti-gang injunction proceedings be provided lawyers at public expense.
Indigent defendants in criminal cases already are entitled to lawyers, but since the injunctions are civil proceedings, many of those against whom they are sought now must confront them without legal counsel.
Hayden also is planning to introduce legislation that would prevent a defendant’s claim of innocence from being used as evidence that he is not remorseful and should, therefore, receive a stiffer sentence if convicted.
Hayden said Wednesday that the Rampart scandal has clearly exposed shortfalls in California’s legal system that will have to be addressed by the Legislature. The Los Angeles Democrat said that alleged gang members in injunction cases routinely are being victimized by little or no legal representation, and that authorities are using the threat of greater penalties to coerce innocent defendants into pleading guilty.
Public nuisance injunction cases, in which authorities allege that gang members have usurped a part of a city and seek to limit their activities in the area, have become highly popular with authorities. But they have been highly controversial among civil libertarians, who contend that many acts prohibited under the injunctions have nothing to do with criminal activity, and that many of those who find their actions restricted are not gang members.
Hayden, the American Civil Liberties Union and the California Public Defenders Assn. argue that the injunction proceedings are civil cases in name only, since they directly involve police and prosecutors.
Hayden’s injunction bill, which he introduced last year before the Rampart scandal fully unfolded, sailed Tuesday through the Senate Committee on Public Safety.
“We’ve seen in the Rampart case what happens when due process is not granted,” Hayden said. “It leads to abuse of power, it leads to a lack of faith in the system, and it costs taxpayers’ money.
“The historic assurance of the rights of the poor to an attorney was not being followed in these cases,” he said. “You have a table full of lawyers on one side and a kid in a California Youth Authority jumpsuit on the other side who may not even understand English.”
Prosecutors throughout the state already have lined up to oppose Hayden’s bill. They are particularly concerned that extending legal counsel to defendants in gang injunction cases could open the door to similar representation for defendants in injunction proceedings related to drug dealing and prostitution.
“Gang injunctions have been demonstrated to be a highly effective tool to make neighborhoods safer,” said Larry Brown, the District Attorneys Assn. director. “Why would we want to throw a wrench into that?”
Courts in recent years have ruled that indigent gang members are not entitled to public attorneys in injunction proceedings. In a case involving alleged 18th Street gang members, suspended last year as a result of the Rampart scandal, a state appellate court ruled that due process does not mandate court-appointed attorneys for defendants.