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Gang Colors Restriction Held Unconstitutional

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has vacated a special condition of supervised release barring the "wearing of colors, insignia, or obtaining tattoos or burn marks (including branding and scars) relative to" criminal street gangs.

The court held that the condition was unconstitutionally vague.

While serving a 121-month sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Ray Brook, New York, Warren Green was charged with possession of a homemade weapon and marijuana inside a federal prison. Green pled guilty to both charges and was sentenced to 18 months. As a special condition of Green's supervised release, the court ordered Green not to associate with members of the "Bloods street gang or any other criminal street gang." In addition, the court banned Green from wearing "colors, insignia, or obtaining tattoos or burn marks (including branding and scars) relative to . . . gangs."

Green appealed the two special conditions of supervised release arguing that they were unconstitutional.

Turning first to the restriction on association with criminal street gangs, the court held that the term "criminal street gang" was not ambiguous because it was defined by 18 U.S.C. 521(a). "The statutory background of the federal criminal law gives the phrase 'criminal street gang' provision a constitutionally sufficient foundation," the court wrote.

However, the same could not be said of the second special condition, according to the court. Noting that "the range of possible gang colors is vast and indeterminate," and the lack of a "list of [] colors or insignia that are typically associated with [] particular gangs," the court held that a person "of ordinary intelligence would be unable to confidently comply with this condition."

Accordingly, the appellate court vacated the condition on the grounds that it was unconstitutionally vague. See: United States v. Green, 618 F.3d 120 (2nd Cir. 2010).

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Related legal case

United States v. Green