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Utah Supreme Court debates Ogden gang restraining orders

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Posted at 11:21 PM, Jun 04, 2013
and last updated 2013-06-05 01:21:54-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of Ogden's unique approach to dealing with a street gang.

Police claim a series of restraining orders issued against hundreds of members of the Ogden Trece gang has cut crime, but critics say it has come at the cost of people's constitutional rights.

In 2010, the Ogden Police Department began serving members of Ogden Trece with injunctions -- prohibiting them from associating with each other within city limits. The restraining orders also set an 11 p.m. curfew and ban them from possessing weapons or graffiti tools.

Attorneys for some of the alleged gang members have challenged the injunctions on First Amendment grounds, claiming they violate the right to free association.

"It gives far too much discretion to police, restricted far too many rights," said David Reymann, an attorney for some of the accused gang members. "It was a sledgehammer-type solution to the problem."

On Tuesday, the state's top court deliberated the legality of the restraining orders, peppering attorneys for both sides with questions about how broad the injunctions are and whether Ogden police property served people with them.

"Under Utah law, is it your position that there was no way to serve Trece as an entity?" Justice Jill Parrish asked Reymann.

"There is no evidence ... that there are any officers or managing or general agents of this entity," he replied.

But prosecutors insist the gang is a full-on criminal organization with its hand in everything from petty vandalism to murder. They have banned the gang from associating within most of Ogden city limits because that is the turf that Trece has carved out for itself, police have said.

"Ogden Trece is a criminal organization and has been in place for over 30 years," Weber County Attorney Dee Smith told the justices, defending the injunctions.

The Ogden Metro Gang Unit told FOX 13 earlier this year that it has seen a decrease in criminal activity ever since the injunctions were put in place. Overall gang crime is reported to be down 22 percent since 2010; graffiti is down 76 percent. So far, 318 of the alleged members of Ogden Trece have been served, police said Tuesday.

If the Utah Supreme Court upholds the injunctions against Ogden Trece, Weber County Attorney Dee Smith confirmed to FOX 13 that authorities in the area may start pursuing the same tactic against other gangs.

"If there are additional gangs that are creating a public nuisance, then we'll use every legal remedy available to us to address that criminal activity," he said.

FOX 13 News has learned other counties across Utah have also considered the restraining orders for their own gang problems, should the court uphold them. Other areas have used the injunctions including California, Texas and Illinois.