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Colonia Chiques Case Underscores Need For Specificity in Regulations, Injunctions


Under the First Amendment Due Process clause, local government regulations and ordinances must give adequate notice with reasonable specificity. A regulation violates the due process of law if its "terms [are] so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application."[1] Recent litigation regarding an injunction granted to the City of Oxnard underscores this important constitutional requirement.      

In People ex rel. Gregory D. Totten  v. Colonia Chiques,[2] the California Court of Appeal reviewed a permanent injunction granted to the City against Colonia Chiques, the largest and most violent street gang in Ventura County.  The permanent injunction granted by the trial court in June 2005, created a 6.6 square mile "Safety Zone" within the City and enjoined Colonia members from participating in many activities, including: possessing guns or dangerous weapons in public view, using gang gestures, wearing gang clothing, possessing an open container of alcohol in public view, painting graffiti, and acting as a lookout to warn for the presence of a police officer. The curfew provision also enjoined Colonia members from "being outside" in the Safety Zone between 10:00 p.m. and sunrise unless they were going to or from a "legitimate meeting or entertainment activity," traveling for work or emergency.

First, the court held that several terms of a gang injunction against the Colonia Chiques gang in the City of Oxnard were unconstitutionally vague because terms in the injunction were undefined. The court found that the provision enjoining gang members from being outside between 10 p.m. and sunrise was unconstitutionally vague. The provision allowed gang members to be outside during those hours if they were going to or from a legitimate meeting or entertainment activity, outside as a result of a legitimate business, trade, profession, or occupation, or were involved in a legitimate emergency situation.

The court found that "outside" was not defined and was thus impermissibly vague. Without a clear definition of "outside," the court noted that it could mean either being on one's porch or car. The court compared the injunction to other ordinances, such as Oxnard's juvenile curfew ordinance, which define "public place" and "establishment."

In addition, the court found that "meeting or entertainment activity" was is inherently vague. For example, the court questioned whether a meeting must be formal or an informal gathering and whether entertainment could mean attending a concert, going to a party at a residence, or visiting a friend. According to the court, the term entertainment "could encompass practically any lawful activity that provides diversion or amusement, such as a walk in the park."

The appellants also challenged the injunction as a violation of their Freedom to Associate; they argued that the injunction's primary purpose was to fundamentally alter Colonia Chiques' ability to attract and keep members.  The court, however, noted that the freedom of association does not extend to criminal street gangs when their main activities are trafficking illegal drugs and securing control of a neighborhood through intimidation and violence. In addition, the injunction only prohibited gang members from associating in public in the Safety Zone and thus, was not a total ban on association.

[1] Connally v. General Construction Co. (1926) 269 U.S. 385, 391; see also People v. Victor (1965) 62 Cal.2d 280, 300. 

[2] California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Six, Case No. B184772 (Oct. 15, 2007).


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