California Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to San Jose Anti-Gang Injunction
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, October 29, 1996
SACRAMENTO — An ACLU challenge to San Jose’s use of a civil injunction to deal with alleged gang activity will be argued before the California Supreme Court next week.
The court will hear oral argument in People ex rel. Gallo v. Acuna, an ACLU of Northern California case affecting anti-gang injunctions in California. The Court agreed to hear an appeal of an April 1995 appellate court ruling that declared unconstitutional some provisions of a Santa Clara Superior Court nuisance injunction obtained in 1993 by the City of San Jose.
This is the first time that a city’s use of a civil injunction to deal with alleged gang activity will be heard before the state high court.
The case will be argued by cooperating attorney Amitai Schwartz on behalf of eleven young Latinos. On the basis of the purported affiliation with two gangs, the Superior Court banned 38 youths from associating in public with any other defendant or known gang member, from making loud noises and from engaging in a variety of other activities in the Rocksprings area of San Jose. The City of San Jose obtained the preliminary injunction based on a public nuisance law.
The defendants could be punished by up to six months in jail or a $1,000 fine or both for violating the injunction by engaging in so-called “gang-related” activities including gathering together in public, talking to persons in cars, climbing trees, wearing certain clothing, making gang “hand signs” and carrying items like pagers, marbles, screwdrivers, pliers, and marking pens.
Because the injunction came during a civil suit, the declared gang members were not allowed protections insured in a criminal proceeding such as the right to an appointed attorney, a jury trial or criminal justice standards of proof.
“The City of San Jose is attempting to make an end run around the criminal justice system,” Schwartz said. “Simply because these men and women are suspected gang members, they are stripped of a variety of constitutional freedoms, the right to associate, to assemble and the right to due process.
“It’s guilt by association, without the City showing that the defendants themselves intended to violate the law,” Schwartz continued. “If the court upholds this injunction we can expect to see a proliferation of these cases in this state. This will effectively place law-making powers in the hands of judges instead of the Legislature.”
In April 1995, the California Court of Appeal found that the injunction was vague and overbroad and did not sufficiently define the prohibited activities or provide definite standards for police enforcement and ascertainment of guilt. These flaws, the court said, lead to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. Ruling that the injunction could go no further than the Constitution allows, the court limited it to prohibit only clearly illegal activities.
The City of San Jose is not alone in using constitutionally questionable injunctions to try to solve gang problems, and in a number of other cities, especially in the Los Angeles area, courts have issued similarly structured injunctions. The ACLU of Northern California was successful in preventing such an order sought by the City of Oakland in the 1994 civil suit, Oakland v. “B Street Boys.”
According to ACLU-NC staff attorney Ed Chen, the success of gang abatement injunctions is not the pivotal issue. “Whether they work in reducing crime or not, they flagrantly violate the rights of groups targeted specifically because of their age, ethnicity and relationships,” Chen said. “Illegal searches may also work, but our Constitution doesn’t permit them, lest we were to allow the government to impose a complete police state.”
In addition to Schwartz and Chen, the team of attorneys challenging the San Jose injunction includes Public Interest Law Firm attorneys Patricia Price and Amanda Wilson; Sara Campos of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights; and San Jose lawyers Dan Mayfield and Stuart Kirchick.