California: Authorized Possession of Legal Materials Cannot Serve as Basis for Gang Validation

California: Authorized Possession of Legal Materials Cannot Serve as Basis for Gang Validation

By Prison Legal News

The California Court of Appeal has held that documents in the possession of a prisoner who is providing legal assistance to another prisoner cannot be used to validate the first prisoner as an associate of a prison gang.

In February 2009, California prisoner Robert Villa was placed in administrative segregation (ad seg) pending an investigation into his involvement with the Mexican Mafia prison gang. A year later, the investigation concluded and, based on four “source items,” Villa was validated as a gang “associate.”

Villa filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging his validation as well as his placement in ad seg. Specifically, he argued that 1) his possession of legal documents belonging to a validated Mexican Mafia associate to whom he was providing legal assistance was authorized by regulation and thus could not serve as a basis for his own validation, and 2) a confidential memorandum linking him to the gang, in general, was insufficient to establish the requisite “direct line” to a current or former validated gang member or associate.

The Court of Appeal agreed and ordered prison officials to expunge all records of Villa’s alleged gang association and to cease housing him in ad seg based on that validation.
The appellate court found that section 3163 of Title 15 of the California Code of Regulations “clearly” permits a prisoner providing legal assistance to another prisoner to possess the other prisoner’s “legal papers, books, opinions, and forms.” It concluded that Villa “cannot be punished under one regulation merely for acting in accordance with another regulation.”

The Court of Appeal emphasized that its ruling did “not transform section 3163 into a talisman to ward off gang validation” because prison officials could still determine, as part of the validation process, that a prisoner claiming to be operating under section 3163 was not actually providing legal services to other prisoners whose documents he possessed.

The appellate court also determined that under section 3378(c)(4), the “direct link” needed to validate a prisoner as a gang member or associate must connect that prisoner to a specific person, i.e., “a current or former validated [gang] member or associate.” A link to the gang, in general, it determined, was insufficient. See: In re Villa, 214 Cal. App. 4th 954 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. 2013).

(Published by Prison Legal News; used by permission)