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Going Gangbusters

NCJ Number
ABA Journal Volume: 82 Dated: (October 1996) Pages: 24
A Jacobius
Date Published
1 page
California prosecutors have begun a new strategy to fight gang crime; it involves obtaining civil injunctions that bar gang activities.
One civil injunction was issued against 138 alleged members of two San Jose street gangs. It prohibited conduct generally associated with gang activity, such as drinking, vandalism, possessing weapons, using drugs, using gang hand signs, appearing with known gang members, applying graffiti, and using beepers in public. Los Angeles County deputy district attorneys obtained civil injunctions against gang members in six other cities. The orders often imposed a curfew and, in an effort to stop drug sales near apartment buildings, forbade trespassing on private property. A Pasadena injunction went further in prohibiting gang members from carrying pagers, cellular telephones, or walkie- talkies. Although prosecutors say their tactics are an effective way to fight gangs, some courts and critics have voiced concerns about the constitutionality of such measures. The California Supreme Court will soon add its voice to the debate, as it considers the San Jose injunction in People v. Acuna. In a decision last year, a California appellate court struck down part of the injunction, upholding only the bar on criminal acts. The remaining prohibitions were held to be overbroad, vague, and an infringement on free speech. In Illinois, where civil injunctions against gang activities were also used, an appeals court held the measure infringed on freedoms of association, assembly, and expression; criminalized the status of being a gang member; and permitted police officers to avoid probable cause requirements. Some prosecutors have been unsuccessful at the trial level as well. In a Los Angeles County case, a judge issued a temporary restraining order aimed at gangs in Westminster, but refused to grant a preliminary injunction. The setbacks have not dampened the enthusiasm of prosecutors for the injunctions, which are enforced with the contempt remedy.