Court strikes blow against gang order

 SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal appeals court on Tuesday struck a blow against widely used gang injunctions, ruling that a sweeping Orange County ban cannot be applied to dozens of people because it gave them no way to challenge claims that they were gang members.

The 9th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals said the 2009 injunction granted by a state court against alleged members or associates of the Orange Varrio Cypress gang was extraordinarily broad, impinging on constitutional liberties and everyday activities, and that there was a “considerable” risk of error in identifying alleged gang members.

“The OCDA and other law enforcement agencies can no longer go behind closed doors and unilaterally decide who is a gang member,” said Belinda Escobosa Helzer, director of the Orange County office of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which filed a lawsuit over the injunction.

A call to the county district attorney’s office was not immediately returned after hours Tuesday.

Advocates argue that the injunctions have reduced gang crime while opponents say they cast too wide a net and unfairly brand young men as gang members without due process.

As with many other orders, the Orange County injunction barred suspected members of the gang from associating in public, wearing gang clothing or being out late at night within an area of Orange that was deemed gang territory.

In its ruling, the appellate court said the injunction “profoundly implicates” and interferes with liberties such as the rights of free movement, association and speech. It noted that the injunction was permanent and its prohibitions had no exceptions for those named to attend religious services, take part in political demonstrations, or even associate with some family members at parks, libraries or churches within certain areas.


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