April 16, 2012 in Idaho

Bonner County prosecutor dropping gang charges

Associated Press
 

SANDPOINT – A North Idaho county is dropping criminal gang-recruitment charges against five people following an Idaho Supreme Court decision making it more difficult to prove the law was broken.

The Bonner County Daily Bee reports that Bonner County Deputy Prosecutor Shane Greenbank has moved to dismiss the charges against five people associated with the Hermanos Motorcycle Club.

The Supreme Court upheld the recruitment law in January but said prosecutors would have to prove a person was drawn to a gang specifically to engage in criminal activity. The court said merely inviting a person to be a member of a criminal gang doesn’t amount to inviting the person to break the law.

“It’s almost impossible to try to get to that level of activity,” Greenbank said. “These groups, they just want numbers. Once they get the numbers up, then everybody falls into step.”

A grand jury indicted Bryan Michael Lukezich, Steven Jay Beal, Dale Michael Champine, James Ray Smith and Jonathan Brandon Bates for allegedly recruiting criminal gang members for the Hermanos. Authorities say the Hermanos is a support club for the outlaw Bandidos Motorcycle Club.

The Supreme Court, in a divided ruling in January, decided a state law designed to stop gangs from recruiting new members is constitutional.

The court was considering the conviction of Simona Manzanares, a Caldwell woman who in 2008 became the first person in Idaho to be sentenced under the then-new Criminal Gang Enforcement Act. Authorities said Manzanares recruited teens and children to join a gang.

But Manzanares appealed her conviction, saying gangs don’t exist just to commit crimes – they offer cultural, social and other benefits to members.

While the court upheld Manzanares’ conviction, the analysis by the court concluded that a conviction can only be won if the state can prove a person was drawn into the gang specifically to engage in criminal conduct.

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