Arizona v Gant (United States Supreme Court)

          In a 5 to 4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that police officers may
not search a vehicle when the occupant has been secured (usually by
being handcuffed and seated in a squad car) and where it is not
reasonable to believe that evidence of the crime for which he was
arrested will be found inside the vehicle. Gant had been arrested for
driving with a suspended license so obviously the police could not have
reasonably expected to find evidence of that crime inside the vehicle.
Gant is a dramatic change from the former (“Belton”) rule which allowed
the police to search a vehicle any time a motorist was arrested for any
crime. But note: For Gant to render an automobile search unlawful, two
prerequisites have to be met: (1) the motorist must have been “secured”
prior to the search, and (2) it must be unreasonable to believe that
evidence of the crime for which he was arrested will be found in the

People v Ramon (California Court of Appeal)

          This is the very best of the tiny number of favorable “gang” cases to be
issued in a long time. Ramon was the driver of a stolen vehicle in which
a gun was found under the driver’s seat. Ramon and his passenger were
admitted gang members, and the vehicle was stopped in gang territory. As
in all gang cases, a police “expert” testified that, in his opinion,
Ramon possessed the gun to promote and assist gang activity because the
gun could be used by the gang “to spread fear and intimidation” and to
commit other crimes.

          The Court of Appeal reversed Ramon’s conviction for carrying a loaded
firearm while a member of a criminal street gang. The court reasoned
that there was no tangible evidence that corroborated the “expert’s”
opinion that Ramon’s possession of the gun bore a relationship to gang

          Most defense lawyers have been making, and losing, this argument for a
long time. It is entirely logical, but the courts have not been
listening. Until Ramon, that is. Let’s just hope that this decision
survives scrutiny by the Supreme Court. (See below).

People v Medina (California Supreme Court)

          As Ramon is the best, this case is the very worst. In fact, it is so bad
that even the very conservative California Supreme Court split 4 to 3
with Governor Schwarzenegger’s sole appointee, Justice Carol Corrigan,
casting the deciding vote. This case essentially holds that a gang
member is responsible for any crime committed by any other member of his
gang while in his presence. Even though he had absolutely nothing to do
with it. Seriously.
          Three gang members (Medina, Marron, and Vallejo) were visiting a
residence when a stranger (Barba) arrived. Vallejo asked Barba where he
was from, a question that has a specific, sinister meaning in the gang
culture. One thing led to another, and eventually the three gang members
engaged in a fist fight with Barba who, to everyone’s surprise, managed
to hold his own in the three against one melee.
          Finally, the owner of the residence broke up the fight, escorted Barba
to his vehicle, and suggested that he leave.. As Burba was driving away
from the house, Medina ran into the street and fired several shots at
Barba’s car. One of them was fatal.
          All three gang members were tried and convicted of murder. On appeal,
the Court of Appeal reversed Marron’s and Vallejo’s convictions because,
obviously, they had not done anything to aid and abet Medina’s
commission of murder. However, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of
Appeal and reinstated the murder convictions and life sentences for all
three defendants.
          The majority essentially held that, when gang members participate in a
fight with a third party, they should recognize the distinct possibility
that the fight will escalate into lethal violence. With all due respect,
this proposition seems preposterous, as all three appellate justices and
three of the seven Supreme Court justices concluded. But, unfortunately,
the ruling of the other four Supreme Court justices is what counts.
Hopefully, this ruling will be overturned by the federal courts on the
ground that Marron and Vallejo were denied due process of law by being
convicted of a crime they essentially had nothing to do with. However,
in the meantime, Medina is very much the law of this state, and the
number of situations in which deputy district attorneys may try to use
the “reasoning” of this case to their advantage is limitless.



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