A federal judge ruled today that the Orange County District Attorney and Orange Police Department violated due process rights by denying hearings to those the agencies suspected of being gang members, dealing what the American Civil Liberties Union called "a major victory" to those legally opposing the OCDA's gang injunction strategy.
"Today's decision means that police and prosecutors can't impose special sets of rules on the people they decide are gang members, without providing a meaningful hearing as the Constitution requires," said Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, in a statement issued by his office in Los Angeles.
"Today's ruling re-affirms one of the bedrock principles of our system and our society: that before a individual's liberty is taken or restricted, the individual has a right to a hearing before a neutral decision-maker," added Joseph Ybarra of Munger, Tolles & Olson, LLP, the firm that joined the ACLU in the suit.
A gang injunction is essentially a restraining order prohibiting gang members from things gang members are known to do, like congregating on their "turf," hanging out in public places or possessing tools that can be used as weapons. However, rather than holding hearings for each individual suspect, under a gang injunction entire groups of suspected members can be named under one order if so approved by a judge.
The OCDA, which has secured gang injunctions throughout the county, and Orange PD originally sought one in February 2009 against more than 100 alleged members of the Orange Varrio Cypress street gang, and an Orange County Superior Court judge signed off on it.
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That created a 3.78-square-mile "gang-free zone" for suspected Orange Varrio Cypress gang members within Orange, where those named in the injunction could face immediate arrest. Within that area was the town's historic downtown, City Hall, a public library, Chapman University and a large hospital, the ACLU noted.
When more than 60 people named as suspected gang members appeared or tried to appear in court to argue that they were not gang members, prosecutors dismissed them from the case and obtained the injunction by default only against the gang and those individuals who never appeared in court. It was a short-lived victory as the OCDA and Orange PD served a new injunction on the same people who'd been dismissed from the original case.
The ACLU and Tolles & Olson last year filed what would become known as Vasquez v. Rackaukas, which is named after plaintiff Manuel Vasquez (the other is Miguel Lara) and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.
Not allowing the plaintiffs a chance to argue whether they were indeed gang members violated their Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process, ruled the judge, who ordered police and prosecutors not to enforce the injunction against the more than 60 suspected Orange Varrio Cypress street gang members.