BOISE – The Idaho Supreme Court has decided a state law designed to stop gangs from recruiting new members is constitutional.
A divided court handed down the ruling late last week, upholding 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 younger children at concerts and car shows to join a gang.
But Manzanares appealed her conviction, saying that gangs don’t exist just to commit crimes – they offer cultural, social and other benefits to members. Manzanares’ attorney, Deputy Appellate Public Defender Erik Lehtinen, told the high court that because Idaho’s new law doesn’t specify that gang recruitment be done with the specific intent to further crime, it violates the right to association. Lehtinen noted that the right to associate exists even for unpopular groups, such as Communist Party members in the U.S. during the Cold War.
But the state contended that the new anti-recruiting law was just fine and that any association with or “material support” of a gang – even that of an interior designer recruited to decorate the gang’s clubhouse – is illegal.