When police officers encounter an individual, whether as a result of a traffic stop, arrest for suspicion of a crime, even just a detention based on a suspicion, or other encounters, the officer may complete what is called a field interview card on the individual. These cards are most often used by the officer when the individual is suspected of being a member of, or affiliated with, a criminal street gang. If the police officer suspects gang affiliation or membership, the individual’s name, demographics, visible tattoos, suspected gang insignia or clothing, and so on is entered on the field interview card, which eventually ends up in the statewide CalGang database.
There have been many documented abuses of this practice. Among the most egregious abuse of this practice is the entry of false information about the individual that results in the individual being added to the CalGang database. Having your name on this database is not inconsequential. When an individual’s name is entered into this database, that person’s name shows up at every subsequent law enforcement encounter as a suspected gang member. This can have consequences even on a minor traffic stop. Individuals on this database are more likely to be a suspected by the officer and are often suspected in criminal investigations.
Recently at least 24 Los Angeles Police Department officers have been identified by LAPD for suspicion of falsifying information on field interview cards. Six of those officers now face criminal charges, the others have been assigned to desk duty or put on leave. They may yet be charged. These officers allegedly filled out field information cards identifying individuals as admitting gang membership when in fact those individuals made no such admission, and some outright denied it. The falsifications were discovered when the police bodycams were viewed relative to these particular contacts and field identification cards. An officer’s false report about an individual is a violation of that person’s due process rights and as I previously blogged about, it can haunt a person for years as a suspected gang member, when in fact there was no evidence to support the suspicion.
Some may have little problem with this practice, figuring the cop had good reason to identify the person as a gang member, but even if that were so, it is a violation of the individual’s constitutional rights. That is never right. The practice undermine justices and creates an atmosphere of distrust between police officers and the communities they are tasked to serve. Additionally, the practice could backfire. For example, say one of the persons for whom an officer entered false information on a field identification card is later charged with an actual gang crime. The field identification cards are often the crucial evidence for supporting gang crimes, but if the earlier field identification card information violated the defendant’s constitutional rights, the information may be successfully thrown out by a motion to suppress the evidence. Perhaps this individual did actually commit a gang crime, but it could be much harder for the prosecution to prove without the field information card information.
If you have been charged with a criminal street gang crime or any other crime, your defense may rest on a violation of your constitutional rights. Orange County criminal defense attorney William Weinberg will review the circumstances of your arrest and prosecution free of charge. He can advise you regarding whether you may have a constitutional challenge or some other potential defense. You may contact him at his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.