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We increasingly hear about gang injunctions on the news, but what do they do and why are they so controversial? An injunction is a court order, generally speaking. A gang injunction is a court order targeting a specific group that prosecutors have deemed a public nuisance.
The practice of seeking these injunctions has come under fire from civil rights groups and some cities have paid a high price for using these orders as a criminal justice shortcut. Let's explore.
What Is a Gang?
The National Institute of Justice points out that there is no single universally agreed-upon definition for a gang in the criminal justice context. The word is defined differently by the federal government and states, however, many states have adopted the following definition, drafted by the California legislature:
"'[C]riminal street gang' means any ongoing organization, association or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal, having as one of its primary activities the commission of one or more of the criminal acts [...], having a common name or common identifying sign or symbol, and whose members individually or collectively engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity."
Curbing Gang Behavior
Injunctions are sought to curb gang violence. They allow police to stop activities in the streets and arrest suspected gang members with less cause than is required for crime generally.
Usually, police need probable cause to suspect criminal activity in order to make an arrest. But when a gang injunction is in place, mere association between two people can be sufficiently suspicious for a stop, causing innocents to be swept up in the efforts to clear the streets of criminal elements. Arrests are then based on how people look and who they hang out with and where they meet.
Concern for Civil Liberties
That's why gang injunctions are controversial. Legal standards exist to protect people from the power of authorities. When the standards are lowered, sometimes innocent bystanders get ensnared and everyone is deprived of important rights, like the right to representation, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU says that gang injunctions result in serious civil liberties violations. "Law enforcement use them as a tool to label people gang members and restrict their activities in a defined area. Gang injunctions make otherwise legal, everyday activities-such as riding the bus with a friend or picking a spouse up from work late at night-illegal for people they target."
The city of Los Angeles became familiar with gang injunction drawbacks recently and has agreed to pay a price. Last month it announced a $30 million settlement with citizens who filed a class action lawsuit over arrests based on a gang injunction that swept up innocents.
If you or someone you know has been accused of crime, speak to a lawyer today. Don't delay. Many criminal defense attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to discuss your case.