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If I Only Had A Badge

By the time you finish reading this, you will know everything you need to know in order to testify, in court, as a gang cop.

Don’t let me mislead you: you won’t know everything you need to know to be a gang expert. That takes years of training in sociology, anthropology and/or psychology, plus a lot of field work. There are actually very few gang experts around. But you will know everything you need to know to testify, under oath, in court, about gangs and why the jury should convict any gang member about whom you testify.

One more caveat: you won’t actually be able to testify in court about these things as a “court-approved” expert. It’s kind of like the Wizard said to the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.

Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got: a diploma.

With the “knowledge” I’m about to impart to you, you’ll know all you need to do what gang cops do. But they have one thing you haven’t got: a badge.

Rule #1: You are testifying about an evil, vile, lowlife gang member. They’re all the same. Whatever you say, your aim is to make sure the jury never sees anything different. (Unless the prosecutor has deemed the gang member the victim, in which case your job is to argue that he’s still a human being and deserves justice. Just remember to testilie the opposite of what you normally would and you’ll be fine.)

If a slimy defense attorney tries to humanize her client, you must do what you can to resist. Any ordinary emotions, motivations, or other reasons for the gang member’s behavior must be explained away. Better yet, see if you can twist normal emotions into something horrible.

For example — this is one of the biggest things you must learn to deal with — human beings generally want to be treated like human beings. If someone mistreats a human, most humans will react with some kind of hostility. If you want to really see how this works, the next time a police officer asks you a question, say, “What business is that of yours?” Then come report back to us on his reaction…if you can.

But remember, because they are not human beings, gang members are different. For a gang member, it’s not about being treated in the normal way human beings expect. Nooooo…it’s all about “RESPECT.” And this is why jurors need gang “experts” to explain things to them. Because we’re not just talking about Aretha Franklin’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” here. (However, Aretha is African-American, so you should say she’s “probably” a gang member if you are asked.)

At any rate, gang members don’t want “just a little bit.” They don’t just want to be treated right. It’s not like it is with every other person on the face of this planet. With gang members, they want to beat the crap out of everyone to “earn” some respect. Make sure the jurors know that “everyone” means them (the jurors), too.

What’s important is to make sure the jury knows that normal human emotions don’t apply when evaluating gang member behavior.

Rule #2: A gang member actually doesn’t do anything just for himself. Everything — and I mean everything — the gang member does is “for the benefit of his criminal street gang.”

So if it looks like a gang member was jealous or immature and got into a fight with someone because he thought they were flirting with his girlfriend or because they looked at mad-dogged him, the jury must understand that isn’t really the reason. That looks too much like how ordinary jealous or immature human beings react under those circumstances. That involves normal human emotions. The reasons you want the jury to hear are all aimed at showing he was trying to benefit a criminal street gang, or that he was earning respect for the gang.

Did he kick a dog because it yelped and startled him when he accidentally stepped on its tail? No! Weren’t you listening?! That might be a normal immature human reaction. This dude kicked the dog to earn respect and to benefit a criminal street gang. If he let people think that he wouldn’t enforce the rules on respect in this instance, the next thing you know, he’d be a laughingstock and gang members would come from as far away as New Zealand just to beat him down and laugh at him.

Rule #3: This is similar to Rule #2, but more personal and comprehensive. You must get the jury to subsume the personality, activities, thoughts, beliefs and anything else about the gang member into the gang itself. Remember! Gang members are not human beings. They are part of a collective, like the Borg. Only worse. If one of them is caught carrying a concealed weapon, your job is to teach the jury how every gang member within a 250-mile radius knew that gang member had it and actually personally possessed that gun, also. This way, all the jury has to decide is that Gang Member A possessed a gun to convict Gang Member B for burglarizing a house. Yes, yes, yes; that doesn’t make sense. Look, do you want to be a gang cop, or not?

Now if you do your job right, this works even though Gang Member B never heard of Gang Member A. (If you do your job wrong, you will be assigned to desk duty in Firebaugh. (Your first job will be to find yourself a desk.))

This rule is particularly important because when it comes time to discuss things like the truly nasty (and you will make sure they’re nasty and explicated to the jurors in gory detail) “primary activities” of the gang, the jury will recognize this is actually supposed to be evidence about the character of the gang member sitting at the defense table in your case, now.

Rule #4: When the prosecutor asks you a question, he will probably deliberately lead you. (This is permissible when questioning “expert” witnesses, at least in California. Because we believe experts are so knowledgeable about what they do that they would not know how to answer a question unless the question itself contained the answer the jury needs to hear. That’s why we call them “experts.”)

Pay attention and be sure to follow the prosecutor’s lead. Remember that your answers should be tailored for maximum prejudice. The best way to do this will be to simply parrot back the words of the prosecutor. However, if the prosecutor screws up, you may have to enhance or build on the leading question.

For example, gang members do not “look at” or “stare at” people; they “mad-dog” them. This will give you the ability to follow up with an explanation of “mad-dogging” and to tell the jury that it’s a deliberate provocation, which shows the gang member is guilty of whatever you say he’s guilty of. If the jury just thinks the gang member was looking at someone, they might not understand that the other person was justified in attacking the gang member and that the gang member was not justified in fighting back. They might think the other guy should be on trial instead. Thus, they might acquit the gang member of an assault or attempted murder.

Rule #5: Gang members don’t have nicknames. They have monikers. This shows how evil they are. For example, I knew a white guy once we called “LK,” short for “Lady Killer.” (He was a big flirt.) This was a nickname. One way you can tell is that I mentioned he was a white guy. (With certain limited exceptions that are beyond the scope of this article, white guys can’t be gang members because their gangs aren’t formed specifically to commit crimes, whereas all non-white gangs are obviously formed specifically to commit crimes.) If the dude was not white, there’s a good chance that “Lady Killer” would be a moniker and you would tell the jury that “Lady Killer” shows that he’s a violence-prone misogynist whose favorite hobby includes murdering innocent women. Like the ones on the jury.

Rule #6: Gang members mostly sit around doing nothing, drinking, partying and so on. However, you must never admit these are their primary activities. Nope. Their primary activities include murder, robbery, assaults and drive-by shootings. If you have a good memory and want to be creative, you can try to learn a couple more crimes from Penal Code section 186.22(e). But don’t. The other crimes might not prejudice the jurors as much.

And prejudice is the name of the game here. Gang X doesn’t just murder lots of people. You want to talk about how the gang member walked into the house, found a man in a full-body cast recuperating on the couch in the living room and splattered his brains all across the drapes. Then he turned and shot an unarmed woman right through the eyeball, while her twin 5-year-old daughters screamed and ran from the room. The little girls, being naïve and innocent little girls, thought they could hide by ducking their heads under the pillows on mom’s bed. The pillows helped muffle the sound when the gang member pushed the end of the pistol into it and pulled the trigger. (This is exactly the way one FBI agent told a jury about a so-called “predicate crime” allegedly committed by a gang member my client had never met, because they lived in completely different areas of the state and were members of what the agent described as separate “sets” of what the agent said was the same gang. If anything, I’ve made it less gory.)

Oh, and if some stupid defense attorney tries the trick of asking you why, if murder is the primary activity of the 4,000-plus-members (or maybe it’s 5,000 or 6,000) of the Bulldogs gang, there aren’t more murders? Use that opportunity to laud the great work of your fellow officers.

I know, I know. That doesn’t really explain how there aren’t as many murders as you’d expect with thousands of people out there each of whose primary activity is murder, but nothing else you say makes sense either. Trust me, the jury won’t think about that. If jurors actually did think about these things themselves, you’d never be on the stand in the first place.

Rule #7: Finally — and this is really important, especially if the crimes of the gang you’re hanging on this defendant weren’t gory enough (see Rules #3 and #6 above) — don’t get bored and start to drift off after you’ve done all the above. Listen carefully for the prosecutor’s wrap-up on your testimony. It will go something like this: “In your expert opinion, were these crimes committed for the benefit of a criminal street gang?” There’s only one answer. And it’s not “yes.” Well, not just “yes.” The correct answer is: “Yes. In my expert opinion, these crimes were committed for the benefit of a criminal street gang.” Because unless you tell the jury this, they might try to figure it out on their own. And they might not go along with the prosecutor if they start to actually look at the evidence instead of just taking your word for it. So remind them that you are the expert and youthink the defendant is guilty.

Okay. Now you’re ready to play.

Or, rather, you would be. If you only had a badge.