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Sunday, 24 May 2009

Three dots,tres puntos in Spanish represented: the three words Mi Vida Loca. My Crazy Life.

Three dots,tres puntos in Spanish represented: the three words Mi Vida Loca. My Crazy Life.The tattoo is often seen on the hands of members of MS-13, the gang known internationally as La Mara Salvatrucha.The police gang unit began to log its contacts with the man, Jose Adolfo Aldana-Ramirez, an immigrant from El Salvador. Officers noted his clothing and his companions, some of whom were MS-13 members alreadydocumented by the unit.This month, Aldana-Ramirez pleaded guilty to participating in a criminal gang, a charge that state lawmakers enacted 10 years ago to crack down on gang crimes.Since then, the charge has been used in 116 felony cases in Franklin County, including 25 times against juveniles, a review of court records shows.Though not used frequently, the law has helped lock up some of the 1,000 or so gang members in Columbus, police and prosecutors say. It carries a sentence of up to eight years in prison.''That's a pretty big hammer to hit somebody with,'' said James Sandford, a Columbus police detective who specializes in the MS-13 gang.Defense attorneys, on the other hand, say the law is vague and prejudicial.The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio thinks that it unfairly skews enforcement toward urban areas, education director Shakyra Diaz said. The risk for guilt by association is great and could land innocent people on watch lists, she said.
To establish a person as an active gang member, police use criteria such as dress, hangouts, associates and the person's own admissions.''It starts out as something that simple,'' Sgt. Chantay Boxill of the Columbus police gang unit said of Aldana-Ramirez's tattoos. After Boxill's unit began keeping track of him, police obtained a threatening voice-mail message that Aldana-Ramirez had left for a rival: ''You'll realize the Salvatruchas. No one laughs at the MS-13.''When Aldana-Ramirez was caught with a loaded .38 under his driver's seat in August, the gang unit also charged him with participating in a criminal gang.Ramirez pleaded guilty to carrying a concealed weapon and the gang charge on May 13 in Franklin County Common Pleas Court and was sent to prison for four years. When he is released, he will be deported.Though Aldana-Ramirez pleaded guilty, he got his dot tattoos at age 15 and denies being a member of MS-13 today, his attorney, Joseph L. Mas, said.
Mas also questioned whether the gang law is constitutional.''We usually find a police officer or a task force that studies a community and then brings charges,'' he said. ''Then, they act as their own witnesses to support the existence of a gang. . . . I don't think the appeals courts have had an ample opportunity to study the matter.''Both the Franklin County Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court have upheld gang statutes. At least 18 states have anti-gang laws.''It's been helpful,'' Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said. ''But often we face a situation where we know he's a gang member, he knows he's a gang member, and the police know he's a gang member, but we can't prove it in a court of law.''
Usually, he said, gang members are tied to other crimes so prosecutors don't need to rely on just the gang charge to obtain a conviction.In 2002, Ohio added the so-called gang specification, in which more prison time can be imposed by a judge for any felony if the offender commits that crime while participating in a criminal gang.


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