A law that's been on the books for 15 years is causing quite a controversy in San Diego.
Penal Code 182.5 was passed when voters approved proposition 21, a proposition which toughened penalties for youth offenders, in 2000. Penal Code 182.5 is a conspiracy law that basically says active gang members can be charged for crimes committed by other members-- even if they were not involved in the crime.
The San Diego County District Attorney’s office says the law fights criminal gangs. Others say the law is constitutionally overbroad and targets innocent people.
Aaron Harvey, 26, didn't believe what law enforcement was telling him when he was arrested in Las Vegas last year.
“They told me I was wanted for murder," he said. "I'm walking out of my house one day and it's like the U.S. Army is outside waiting on me with guns drawn, helicopters, and assault rifles.”
Harvey is one of a group of 15 charged in the Lincoln Park Gang conspiracy criminal case. The County District Attorney's office was able to charge them under Penal Code section 182.5 for nine different gang related shootings in San Diego, even though he and others didn't pull the trigger.
"He is as liable as the shooters were even though he didn't know they are out doing this,” said Edward Kinsey, Harvey’s attorney.
Penal Code 182.5 allows for the prosecution of active gang members if they promote, assist or benefit from the crime. In this case, the DA's office says Harvey and others promoted the crimes by posting their gang affiliation and threats on social media sites like Facebook. The District Attorney's office also says one of Harvey's co-defendants, Brandon Duncan, known as Rapper Tiny Doo, also promoted crimes in his lyrics and they all benefitted because their gang gained street credibility.
"They're saying I benefited from these crimes and they are saying my benefit is my stature went up," Harvey said. "I don't know how you can even measure stature or how can a person's stature go up. I didn't even know I had stature."
Harvey insists he is innocent, saying he is not a member of a gang. He and his attorney say all he is guilty of is growing up in Lincoln Park, a neighborhood known to have gangs.
"What we've got here in the case of Aaron is guilt by association,” said Kinsey.
The DA's office declined our request for an on camera interview but did provide background information saying it presented specific evidence, like a "C and K" tattoo on Harvey's arm they say stands for "Crip Killer," in its case against Harvey. The DA's office says it's holding violent individuals accountable for crimes that terrorized a neighborhood. Harvey says they've got the wrong guy.
“I"m not afraid. I have no fear. They put no fear in me because I know I've done nothing wrong," he said.
Harvey, who has no prior criminal convictions, now faces life in prison. He says he is now focused on making sure other people are not charged with this statue. The case will be the first time 182.5 is used at any significant level in the state.