On Thursday, the California Supreme Court reversed the conviction of a gang member who had posted on social media that he approved of the killing of rivals during a San Diego gang war.
In a rare unanimous ruling, the court said that “being a cheerleader” is not enough to prove that Nicholas Hoskins colluded in the murders.
The court remanded Hoskins’ case to the appeal court that first upheld his conviction and sentenced him to 25 years to life.
The conflict between Crips and Bloods in the San Diego area was the impetus for the legal action at hand. After the 2011 murder of a member of Hoskins’ Bloods-affiliated gang, a war was declared.
He was accused of being a part of a “two-year pact among at least 20 gang members to kill members of rival gangs, without agreement as to any precise times, persons, or places where killing would take place,” as stated in the Supreme Court’s verdict.
He was a member of a violent gang, had easy access to firearms, and had publicly celebrated attacks on members of competing gangs, according to the prosecution’s case.
The Supreme Court pointed out that Hoskins “knew and approved” of the purpose of harming rivals, as evidenced by a photograph of him making a “Crip killer” hand sign that he posted to social media in 2013.
But the state’s highest court ruled that Hoskins’ involvement in any violent acts was unproven.
To conclude that Hoskins planned to commit murder, either directly or indirectly, based on the other evidence “is not sufficient to establish a conclusion that Hoskins specifically intended to do so,” the court ruled.
According to a case from decades ago, “the United States Supreme Court concluded that the First Amendment precludes punishing a person just for associating with others,” even if such association is part of an organization with a violent goal.
The court stated, “A cheerleader, however enthusiastic, is not a co-conspirator unless the prosecution can prove the cheering was intended to play some role in attaining” illicit intentions.
Source: AP News