Wednesday, August 5, 2009
C.A.: Pants Robbery Did Not Justify Courthouse Ban
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
A defendant’s conviction for robbing a young man of his newly-purchased pair of pants did not justify barring the defendant from any courthouse as a condition of probation, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Holding the condition overbroad, Div. Six struck Ventura Superior Court Judge Kevin J. McGee’s order barring Alejandro Miguel Perez from attending any court hearing or being “within 500 feet of any Court in which [he] is neither a defendant nor under subpoena.”
Perez said he tackled the young man—identified as “Luis”—outside a store and forcibly took the $29 pants the young man had just bought “in order to make a point” because he believed Luis was an El Rio gang member and had vandalized Perez’s brother’s property.
Although Perez said some of his friends were Colonia Chiques gang members, he maintained that he “never joined their gang,” but admitted tagging for the La Colonia gang and belonging to a graffiti “tagging crew called VC Tag.”
Perez pleaded guilty to second degree robbery, and the trial court suspended imposition of sentence and placed him on 36 months of formal felony probation.
When the prosecution sought imposition of all 36 conditions listed in the probation report, including the courthouse ban, Perez’s counsel moved to strike the restriction as “an illegal term.”
Perez’s counsel noted that this district’s Court of Appeal struck the same condition in a prior unpublished appeal, but McGee denied the motion.
On appeal, Perez claimed that a 500-foot restriction on access to courts was not reasonably related to his crime as his offense did not involve threatening witnesses or interfering with court proceedings. However, based on Perez’s affiliation with gangs, the attorney general justified the restriction to prevent future gang-related criminality.
But Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert—noting that courts have broad discretion to impose conditions to foster rehabilitation and to protect public safety, including conditions to discourage defendants from engaging in gang-connected activities, and to protect witnesses, parties to court proceedings and court personnel—rejected the attorney general’s assertion and remanded for the trial court to impose a narrower condition if deemed necessary.
Gilbert wrote that the condition was “so broad that it restricts Perez from engaging in activities that are unrelated to future criminality.”
Noting that the prosecution provided no rationale for the access restriction, the justice said that the Attorney General had failed to show “why a narrower condition restricting attendance at trials of gang members and prohibiting contact with witnesses would not suffice.”
Gilbert similarly agreed with Perez’s argument that the restriction imposed unnecessary restrictions on Perez’s right to access the courts and government offices.
“Many courts are located in government complexes that house a variety of public agencies. These may include a county law library; a public defender’s office; a hall of administration, housing a board of supervisors, a city council, or both; a tax collector; and a health department, to name a few.”
Justices Kenneth R. Yegan and Paul H. Coffee joined Gilbert in his opinion.
The case is People v. Perez, 09 S.O.S. 4700.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company