In a first-of-its-kind ruling, a U.S. District Court judge has ruled that the Orange County District Attorney must give alleged gang members due process rights. Munger, Tolles & Olson and the ACLU of Southern California were co-counsel in the case, Vasquez v. Rackaukas.
The May 10 decision came in a class action challenging the enforcement of a gang injunction on procedural due process grounds and could have significant implications for jurisdictions statewide with blanket gang injunctions.
The district attorney’s office and the Orange Police Department “failed to provide adequate due process,” wrote U.S. District Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank.
“This 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,” said Joseph J. Ybarra, a Munger Tolles litigation partner.
Mr. Ybarra helped lead the team that tried the case in downtown Los Angeles in Nov. 2010.
Police and prosecutors originally sought a gang injunction in February 2009 against the Orange Varrio Cypress street gang and more than 100 alleged members. After nearly 60 people named as suspected gang members appeared or tried to appear in court to contest the allegations against them, prosecutors voluntarily dismissed them from the case and obtained the injunction by default only against the gang and those individuals who never appeared in court.
Notwithstanding the dismissal, soon afterward, the district attorney and police began serving the injunction on the very same people that had been dismissed from the case, on grounds that they were suspected of being part of the enjoined gang.
In ruling that applying the injunction to those individuals violated procedural due process, the court held that being subject to a gang injunction significantly restricts a person’s basic liberties, and that whether or not someone is a gang member is a complex factual question that should not be left to the sole discretion of police and prosecutors to decide.
The Munger Tolles team also included Jacob S. Kreilkamp, Laura D. Smolowe and Sarala V. Nagala.