As Los Angeles’ war on street gangs unfolds, defense attorneys are protesting what they see as overzealous prosecutions that seek enhanced jail time for suspects arrested for nonviolent crimes, the Los Angeles Times reports. Cases that might have been charged as misdemeanors are being filed as felonies with enhancements that increase penalties and put bail out of reach, defense lawyers say. Sometimes, judges have agreed, rebuking prosecutors by throwing out excessive charges against alleged gang members.
Robert Kalunian, chief deputy Los Angeles County public defender, said defense attorneys are seeing aggressive prosecutions for relatively minor crimes such as vandalism and petty theft because the suspect is an alleged gang member. “We are spending a considerable amount of resources on cases that are not the crime of the century,” he said. Prosecutors say they are not handling gang cases any differently, but are enforcing existing laws that recognize the sinister grip that gang crime can have on a community. “The Legislature has given district attorneys around California appropriate tools to fight the scourge of gangs,” said Jane Robison of the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. “That includes filing gang enhancements for crimes that are both violent and nonviolent.”