Facebook Pictures May Lead to Life Sentence

A man is about to serve a life sentence for Facebook pictures that show no crime being committed.

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 There is nothing about this case that makes any sense. A man is facing the possibility of a life sentence because he posted pictures on Facebook. These pictures show him with known gang members and flashing gang sign.

I hate criminal gangs. But these things are not crimes. Nothing in these pictures shows Aaron Harvey committing a crime.

The prosecutors are saying that Harvey deserves a life sentence because he is using gang identification and appeared with gang members in his neighborhood in his Facebook pictures. Additionally, he has been categorized as a gang member himself.

But those aren’t crimes.

[See also, “Rapper Facing Life in Prison for Album Lyrics and Cover Art.”]

And even if such things could be criminalized, it is not clear that life imprisonment is appropriate for a person who has never actually harmed anyone else. If it were true that pictures on Facebook of actions that are not crimes could somehow count as a crime, would it follow that the penalty should be more severe than a court would inflict for assault or even some types of homicide?

According to the Voice of San Diego,

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is using an obscure criminal statute, Penal Code section 182.5, for what appears to be the first time ever in California to prosecute a group of 15 San Diego men, including Harvey. The DA has admitted that some of the men had nothing to do with the underlying crimes at the heart of the case – a series of shootings by Lincoln Park gang members in 2013. Rather, they’re charged with conspiracy for belonging to the same gang as the shooters. For that, they could go to prison for life.

It’s guilt by association, basically, and if federal law is any guide, it’s perfectly constitutional.

The law says a person who “willfully promotes, furthers, assists, or benefits” from a gang crime can be charged with conspiracy. The benefit Harvey received out of the shootings, according to the DA, is street cred. If someone in the gang commits a crime, the reasoning goes, the whole gang gets a boost to its reputation.

So basically, this obscure law, it turns out, allows for the prosecution of all gang members… period. The law seemed to be singling out a specific kind of action that could be prosecuted, but on this new interpretation, the boost in reputation is all that is required.

“They’re saying I benefited because my stature, my respect, went up. I didn’t even know I had any stature. I don’t understand how someone can benefit from something they don’t even know exists,” said Harvey. “It’s not a quantifiable thing, there’s no measure for stature. They’re the ones quantifying it.”

For the record, Harvey denies being a gang member. He may be lying (he’s got plenty of motive to do so) but the state’s method of labeling someone as a gang member seems quite arbitrary. It certainly doesn’t require the state to prove such membership even though prosecution is based on the allegation.

I think it is noteworthy that Harvey has never been convicted of a crime. His record is clean. He was charged with drug possession at one time and the jury acquitted him.

In my opinion, it is the prosecutors who are the criminals here. Attempting to abduct a man under the color of law is a much more severe breach of God’s law than anything Harvey has done.