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Judges reverse teen’s gang-related adjudication

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The state was unable to prove that a 14-year-old Indianapolis boy committed criminal gang activity when he and several other juveniles beat up another teen after a party, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

G.H. appealed his adjudication of what would be Class D felony criminal gang activity, arguing there is insufficient evidence to support the finding.

Teenager V.A. and another friend went to G.H.’s house before going to a party. V.A. left after seeing another teenage boy had a sawed-off shotgun. A group of teens, including G.H. followed V.A. and beat him up. V.A. got away and later attended another party with his older brother J.A. G.H. was at this party and when the brothers left for home, G.H. and some other boys followed them and asked if they wanted to fight. The brothers ran home.

To prove that G.H. committed criminal gang activity, the state must show that he (1) was an active member of a criminal gang, (2) had knowledge of the group’s criminal advocacy, and (3) had a specific intent to further the group’s criminal goals.

No witness could link physical evidence of gang activity to G.H. The brothers gave contradictory testimony about whether G.H. yelled “skoo woo” or “Drop ‘Em Squad” before the group of teens approached the brothers after the party. Those terms are often called out by gang members as a way of identifying themselves. J.A. recalled G.H. saying he was a member of the gang, but didn’t remember when he heard it.

“The State argues that G.H. and the other boys were gang members at the time of the incident because J.A. testified that they hung out together. This guilt-by-association argument is circular and unpersuasive,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote in G.H. v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1207-JV-532.

“However, even if the evidence established G.H.’s active gang membership, we would still conclude that the evidence is insufficient to sustain G.H.’s adjudication because there is no evidence that G.H. had the specific intent to further Drop ‘Em Squad’s criminal goals by battering V.A.”
 

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