Gang Membership ‘No Crime’

row of handcuffed men“It is not a crime to be a member of a gang,” the lawyer for Angel Noel Guevara told jurors today at the outset of the defense closing arguments in the 22-count federal racketeering trial.  Seven defendants are accused of conspiracy, racketeering, murder, attempted murder and a host of other violence crimes on San Francisco streets.

The four-month trial has seen a string of informants, including some who failed to adhere to government requirements for collecting evidence or recording conversations.

Guevara’s lawyer, Lupe Martinez told jurors “Guevara does not deny he was a member of the 20th Street clique.  He has tattoos, he hung out on the block, he drew pictures of gang signs.  But gang membership is not a crime.”

Martinez pointed out that Guevara had been in jail during the period when the murders charged in the indictment occurred.

He asked jurors to keep in mind they must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Guevara personall agreed to participate in a racketeering conspiracy.

The trial of the first seven of the original 29 alleged gang members indicted in 2008 covers 22 counts of alleged racketeering and conspiracy for a trail of murders, attempted murders, extortion and robbery.  It includes the shooting deaths of two men simply because one was wearing a red shirt and suspected of membership in a rival gang.  

The government says the MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, is an international gang that began in Central America and is now in 30 states in the U.S. and is extremely violent.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Wilson Leung told jurors Monday that MS-13 “waged war against rival gang members” and “ended up spilling a lot of innocent blood on the streets of San Francisco.”

 But the government had its own problems in this trial, including informants who the defense contends played fast and loose with the truth and with evidence for their own benefit.

Martinez repeated Leung’s warning that “you don’t find Eagle Scouts as informants.”  But he added that is why there needs to be corroboration of what they say.  “In the government’s handling of some of these informants, they went off the reservation.  But that does not relieve the government of its burden of proof” in the case, he said.

At the close of the government’s argument in the morning session, Leung admitted, “The government takes its witnesses as they find them and some are in fact despicable.  No one is asking you to like the government’s witnesses, but fairly and rationally evaluate their evidence.”

Each of the seven defense lawyers will argue in turn during th week before the case finally goes to the jury for deliberation.

Case:  U.S. v. Cerna, CR08-730WHA

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