08 September 2005

A Richmond judge sets a very dangerous precedent by allowing law enforcement officials to testify as experts on gang tattoos.

Guilt by association. Or, more accurately, impeachment by implied association - without even actual proof of association. As one guy asked me when I told him what the spiderweb is supposed to mean on the elbows of white clients, "How many of them are posers?"

I don't know. I can't answer that question from anything other than my subjective experiences and inferences. I suspect most haven't "earned" the tattoo. And I pretty much guarantee that the police "experts" cannot answer that question with any kind of objective, statistically based study either.

4 comments:

Patrick McKenzie said...

You're the legal expert, but its more of impeachment by reference to an expressive act, isn't it? Which is perfectly legal -- you can introduce "Bob Smith said, on fourty-seven times in front of witnesses, I think this country would be better off without the quote mud-people endquote" to rebutt the defense's claim that Smith is an upstanding citizen working a 9-5 job who just happened to stray this one time. Now, the expressive vocabulary of the KKK might well be outside the realm of the layman's experience (although "mud-people" doesn't leave too much room for the imagination), so that might well require an explanation of what exactly the connotation of that message is. Its irrelevant whether Smith was actually a KKK member or whether his conduct was protected speech (it clearly is), it just goes towards character. Similarly, affirmative actions to express your affinity for a street gang are surely relevant to the question of whether you're a fine, upstanding citizen who would never hurt a fly.

Anonymous said...

Its irrelevant whether Smith was actually a KKK member or whether his conduct was protected speech (it clearly is), it just goes towards character. Similarly, affirmative actions to express your affinity for a street gang are surely relevant to the question of whether you're a fine, upstanding citizen who would never hurt a fly.

I'm not an expert either, but as I understand it, this isn't simply a matter of speaking to character, but rather a matter of proving association with gangs for enhanced sentences.

It is one thing for me to say unsavory things; it is another for me to have an active relationship with a criminal enterprise (or so the theory goes). Using one to infer the other seems to be the problematic issue.

Again, I may have framed this incorrectly.

Ken Lammers said...

The tattoos do speak to character; at the very least it evinces a desire to appear to be a member of the group. The problem is that the way this paints the defendant's character as poor is by pointing to the bad acts of others, not to the defendant's acts.

Anonymous said...

Read Theodore Dalrymple's "Life at the Bottom: The World View that Creates the Underclass." He estimates, based on tens of thousands of interviews, that a large proportion of the white, British underclass sport those spider web tattoos. He says he doesn't quite know the significance of them, other than perhaps the fact that spiders are considered vaguely theatening and their webs are aesthetically pleasing.
The fact is that most of the people who wear them are probably young, dumb, and trying to look cool. It is a shame that someone with a relatively minor record could be labeled a gang member (I haven't read the article linked hear, I'm just speaking hypothetically) and receive a sentence enhancement because they are young, dumb, and trying to look cool.
I am thankful that I didn't get wasted in college, get one of those tattoos because they look cool, and then get busted with a bag of pot while drunk in public and carrying a pocket knife. I'd probably still be in prison given the reputation of our local police "task forces" and their attendant assistant commonwealth's attorneys and compliant judges.