Thursday, May 26, 2016
Supreme Court of Washington Find Prosecutor Improperly Used Music on Defendant's Phone to Prove Gang Affiliation
In State v. DeLeon,
Ignacio Cardenas was outside his home in Sunnyside with his cousin and a friend around 11:00 p.m. waiting for another friend, Jose Barajas. They saw a silver Ford Taurus drove by. Thinking that the car belonged to a friend, Cardenas's cousin flashed a sign associated with their gang at the car. The car did not belong to a friend, and after driving by, it made a U-turn and drove by the house again. Several shots were then fired from the car, hitting Cardenas. He survived, but lost one of his kidneys.
Anthony DeLeon, his brother Ricardo DeLeon, and their friend Octavio Robledo were eventually charged in connection with the shooting, with the State's theory of the case being that the shooting was gang related. One of the pieces of evidence that the prosecution used to prove gang involvement was the music stored on Anthony's phone. And that's part of the reason why the three men will be getting a new trial.
In reversing the three men's convictions, the Supreme Court of Washington ruled that
we are concerned by some of the questionable musical evidence presented by the State as evidence of gang involvement. This evidence was cited by the Court of Appeals as “untainted” evidence of gang membership. For example,the Court of Appeals noted that a song by Los Tigres Del Norte was stored on Anthony DeLeon's cell phone, and indicated that this was evidence of gang involvement....We find this conclusion troublesome. Los Tigres Del Norte has been one of the more prominent bands in Latin music for decades. Since forming in 1968, Los Tigres Del Norte have sold 32 million albums. They have won five Latin Grammy awards, and they have performed in front of U.S. troops serving abroad. There is no support in the record for the contention that enjoying their music is evidence of gang involvement. While this may not be the primary issue in this case, we felt that it was nonetheless important to take this opportunity to remind courts to exercise far more caution when drawing conclusions from a defendant's musical preferences.