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Top court: Gang members can't be charged under terrorism law

New York’s top court ruled Tuesday that a gang member can’t be prosecuted as terrorist.

 The Court of Appeals, in a unanimous decision, said that the Bronx district attorney’s office erred when it used a state law enacted in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack to elevate charges against Edgar Morales, a member of the “St. James Boys” or SJB gang. The terrorism charge likely prejudiced jurors, the court said.

“There is no indication that the (state) Legislature enacted (the terrorism statute) with the intention of elevating gang-on-gang street violence to the status of terrorism,” Judge Victoria Graffeo, one of the most conservative members of the court, wrote for the six-judge panel. “Specifically, the statutory language cannot be interpreted so as to cover individuals or groups who are not normally view as terrorists.

"By proceeding on the terrorism theory, (prosecutors) were able to introduce eviden about numerous alleged criminal acts committed by members of the SJB gang over the course of three years," Graffeo continued. "Without the aura of terrorism looming over the case, the activities of defendant's associates in other contexts would have been largely, if not entirely, inadmissible."

The court ordered a new trial for Morales. He had been convicted of fatally shooting a 10-year-old bystander and paralyzing a rival gang member at a christening party in 2002.

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