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Gang law gets test in Idaho high court

Idaho's highest court is deciding if a law against gang recruitment is constitutional, reports AP reporter Rebecca Boone, after hearing arguments from attorneys today over whether gangs exist solely to commit crimes or if they offer cultural, educational or other benefits to members. Click below for Boone's full report. It's the first test of Idaho's Criminal Gang Enforcement Act, under which Simona Manzanares of Caldwell was convicted of recruiting a criminal gang member, including contacts with teens and younger children at concerts and car shows. She's challenging the law as violating the constitutional right to free association.


Idaho Supreme Court considers gang recruitment law
By REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's highest court is deciding if a law against gang recruitment is constitutional after hearing arguments from attorneys Monday over whether gangs exist solely to commit crimes or if they offer cultural, educational or other benefits to members.

The questions were raised in the case of Caldwell resident Simona Manzanares, who in 2008 became the first person in the state sentenced under its Criminal Gang Enforcement Act.

Police and prosecutors said she recruited teenagers and younger children at concerts and car shows to join a gang.

Manzanares appealed her sentence, saying the recruitment law is too broad and punishes people for exercising their right to associate with whomever they please.

“The right of association exists even for unpopular groups, even groups that take part in criminal activity,” deputy state appellate public defender Erik Lehtinen told the Idaho Supreme Court.

Gangs have several purposes for members, including BBQs, parties or crimes, Lehtinen said. He maintained that anti-recruitment laws are constitutional only when they specify that the recruitment be done with the specific intent to further crime — such as an anti-recruitment law in California.

Idaho's law, though based in large part on the California statute, has no such wording, he said.

Deputy attorney general Ken Jorgensen told the high court that even if a gang recruited a member for non-criminal events, such as parties, that member would still be violating the law because joining a gang in any capacity amounts to providing material support to a criminal group.

“Mere association is protected, but material support to organizations involved in criminal activity is not,” Jorgensen said.

Parties, BBQs and other events lend a gang “street cred,” so those attending are giving the gangs material support, Jorgensen contended.

“If you know your beer fund is funded by thefts” then those people are participating in the criminal activity, he said.

The high court questioned whether that could really be the case. Would even recruiting an interior decorator to jazz up a gang's party spot mean the decorator was taking part in criminal activity, Justice Jim Jones asked.

Yes, said Jorgensen, contending that if a gang liked to bowl and recruited excellent bowlers, and the ringer bowlers never took part in a burglary or other crime, they would still be violating the law because their presence furthers the gang's purposes and frees up other members to commit crimes.

The Idaho Supreme Court took the matter under advisement and will issue a written ruling.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.
  


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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