I have tried at least fifty cases that included a police officer who is called by the District Attorney as a “gang expert”. The gang expert always testifies that the crime committed by the accused was done for the benefit of his gang. This testimony occurs even when the crime occurs far away from the accused’s home territory and is completely unrelated to anything related to his gang. For example, I had a case where a Santa Ana gang member and his two friends broke into cars in Laguna Niguel after a night of drinking at a party in the South Orange County area. No gang signs were left at the scene and no one would have known a gang member had committed the car burglaries. Even so, the gang expert testified the burglaries benefited the gang because the members gained money from the crime.
This overstretching and tortured testimony is no longer going to be allowed by the courts. Now in the recent case of People v Perez, decided December 18, 2017 the Court of Appeal reversed a conviction for a gang crime in a case where there just wasn’t any evidence to support the testimony that it was done for the benefit of the gang. In Perez, the defendant was a validated gang member,, who fired a gun at a party. The Court ruled in very strong language that ” Not every crime committed by a gang member is gang related…..merely belonging to a gang at the time of the commission of the charged conduct does not constitute substantial evidence to support an inference that sole actor specifically intended to promote, further, or assist any criminal conduct by gang members.” The police gang expert had testified that any crime of violence enhanced the gang’s reputation by instilling fear in the community. Finally, a court has ruled that despite the inherent prejudice against gang members and gang crime not every crime is gang related even when it’s committed by a known, validated, heavily tattooed gang member.
Now when I make the same objection I’ve made for years the judge will have to rule in my favor, even though he doesn’t want to. The rule of law prevails, sometimes it just takes awhile.