Gun Conviction Could Net 12 to 21 Years in Prison

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Tec-9

The Vanguard covered the two-week trial of Angel Palacios, Carlos Hernandez and German Martinez, each of them 20 years old, each of them found guilty of possessing a Tec-9 type assault pistol in their car.  They were also found to be Norteño gang members from Woodland and to have been engaging in criminal street activity.

According to the DA’s version of events, witnesses testified at trial that on August 17, 2010, two groups of gang members were in the area of Harris Park near Midtown Elementary in Woodland. Just as school security arrived, a rival gang member challenged defendant Hernandez, who appeared to have an object in his hand.

The police were called and the two groups left before law enforcement arrived. An officer stopped the car occupied by the defendants and a 14-year-old juvenile. In the car was an illegal, AA Arms Luger AP9 assault weapon with a clip containing 23 rounds of 9mm ammunition.

According to defendant Palacios, he had purchased the gun and took it in the car that day. Mr. Palacios also handed the gun to the juvenile passenger just before being pulled over because he felt the juvenile would get in less trouble than the adults in the car.

A Woodland police officer testified that the weapon was designed with both high capacity and cooling features to allow it to fire as many as 35 bullets within a few seconds.

Deputy DA Ryan Couzens brought in a Woodland Police gang expert who “gave the jury some background on criminal street gangs, explaining the many violent crimes committed by the Norteño gang in Woodland and how the gun increases the status of the gang and prepares gang members for the frequent confrontations with their rivals.”

The Yolo County jury found the defendants guilty for transporting and possessing an illegal firearm. They found Mr. Hernandez guilty of being a felon in possession of a gun while on probation. Mr. Hernandez has a prior conviction for battery, causing great bodily injury, and all three men were on probation at the time of the crime.

As indicated, Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens prosecuted the case. “We appreciate the courageous efforts of school security for arriving on scene and avoiding disaster,” stated Couzens. “Had intervention not occurred,” continued Couzens, “the weapon could have been fired in a public park in a crowd of people.”

The District Attorney’s office reports they face between 12 and 21 years in prison for this crime.

Naturally, there was a good deal more ambiguity to the case than this.  Mr. Palacios would testify on his own behalf and claim to be the one solely responsible for the gun that was found.  However, Mr. Couzens, in his closing comments called Mr. Palacios a liar, arguing that he was making things up to protect his friends.

COMMENTARY

In the end, let us assume that the facts of this case are largely correct.  There were three young men and an unidentified juvenile found with an illegal assault weapon in their car.

These men all have previous criminal histories.  They all are on probation.  And they all have, at the very least, gang ties.

At the same time, their only actual crime here, other than having bad histories and gang ties, is that they had a gun that they should not have had.  We make no effort to defend that.

They had no business having any gun, let alone a Tec-9.  Nothing good was going to come of that.

And in this case, Mr. Couzens is at least part right, in that the weapon could have been fired into a crowd of people, people could have been hurt, people even could have been killed.

But for the intervention of school security, people may have been hurt or killed.

However, that is the rub in this case.  People were not hurt, people were not killed, in fact, no other action was taken or crime was committed.

So now we have three very young men, basically kids, who have a troubled past, and now will spend close to 20 years in prison given the enhancements and violations of probation for having, but not using, a gun.

The fact is that this is not Minority Report.  We do not try to predict into the future what will happen.  We can only hold people accountable for what they have done and the crimes that they have committed.

The bottom line here is that I am just not comfortable sending people away to prison for twenty years for the mere crime of having a gun – granted, an illegal assault weapon, granted, they were on probation, granted, there are gang charges involved as well.

To me, twenty years should be for actually doing something that hurts people; having a gun only has the potential for hurting people.

I am not arguing that they should not get punished.  But to me, twenty years really says we are going to throw away these kids’ lives when that seems premature.

I do not necessarily have a problem with the prosecution of this case, I have a problem with a law that can combine enough things together to make this a twenty-year crime rather than a two- or three- or even five-year crime.

The left has villainized the use of guns to the point where we have enhancements that add ten years for having a gun, twenty years for using a gun, and life for hurting or killing with that gun.  If you kill someone, why is it so much worse to do it with a gun than to do it in other ways?

Are we safer now because we have these draconian gun laws, or are we just locking away our fears because we have refused to deal with the real problems?

It is the left that wants to pass all of these more and more draconian gun laws, and these are just as much to blame for prison overcrowding as the draconian three-strikes laws or drug laws.

I am not in favor of criminals or their potential to get ahold of weapons, but let us start punishing people for what they have actually done, not what they might do.  We are not going to hide from this, this is a scary weapon, we posted the picture at the top of the article, but keep asking yourself, twenty years for possession of a weapon?

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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20 thoughts on “Gun Conviction Could Net 12 to 21 Years in Prison”

  1. Mr.Toad

    Did you see the rap sheets on these guys? It might change your mind. Three guys on probation not one said I’m out of here! Oh they are only 20, you sound like Linda Katehi. Okay the people she spoke about have high school diplomas. Maybe that is the difference here. I don’t know did you check?

    Angel Palacios tried to take the rap. Getting the other guys off with lesser sentences might have been fair except that a jury didn’t buy it and convicted them all. Can you blame the jury? It wasn’t just possession of a gun it was loaded. It was brought to a park in Woodland with people around near a school when kids were there. It was present at an altercation. They are known gang members who are on probation. What else do you want before we throw the book at them, somebody killed or wounded?

    Oh well they are just kids with guns playing Grand Theft Auto on their xbox. Oh wait, those are real bullets.

  2. biddlin

    I see folks in Yolo county carrying pretty lethal looking rifles and shotguns all the time . I saw one get a ticket for a loaded shotgun, just a couple of months ago . It does strike me as unfair to fine one set of people and sentence another for such long terms .

  3. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]And in this case, Mr. Couzens is at least part right, in that the weapon could have been fired into a crowd of people, people could have been hurt, people even could have been killed.

    But for the intervention of school security, people may have been hurt or killed.

    However, that is the rub in this case. People were not hurt, people were not killed, in fact, no other action was taken or crime was committed.[/quote]

    These creeps brought a loaded machine gun to a school yard. They tried to pawn the gun off onto a 14 year old kid so they wouldn’t get caught with it. They were all on probation and new they had no business having a gun, let alone a machine gun. There is only one purpose for a machine gun – to kill people. The jury got it right, and I have no problem sending these felons away for a long time. I don’t want to wait until some child in a school yard is killed to give them hard time.

    Just as an example, there was a young woman walking down a street w friends. A shot rang out. A stray bullet from a gunfight caught her in the spine. She is paralyzed from the waste down for life. Her boyfriend proposed to her in the hospital. The day she got out of the hospital, she bought a wedding gown. As she was trying gowns on, she began crying when the saleslady asked her if her father would be WALKING her down the aisle. An innocent enough question. But the girl knew w a certainty she would never walk again. Her father would have to push her in her wheelchair down the aisle.

    These three defendants knew the risks they were taking by carrying a gun, but chose to do it anyway. Fine, then they can serve the time – long and hard time – for the knowing risks they took. Thank heavens no one was killed…

  4. David M. Greenwald

    “These three defendants knew the risks they were taking by carrying a gun, but chose to do it anyway”

    They did and they deserve punishment. The question is how long that punishment should be.

  5. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]They did and they deserve punishment. The question is how long that punishment should be.[/quote]

    IMO, a long, long time…

  6. Frankly

    The left worldview on crime and guns tends to be that we should have stronger laws to prevent gun ownership and somehow this will reduce incidents of injury or death by gun.

    Setting aside for the moment the point that this is an asinine view that would lead to stronger criminals and weaker victims, the REAL solution for solving the gun-crime problem is to have zero tolerance for a gun being used in a crime, and zero tolerance for convicted criminals possessing a gun.

    This will fix the problem in two ways:

    1.People that commit a crime with a gun, and criminals that are caught possessing a gun, will get longer prison sentences. This will keep them off the street and lower the number of bad people that are a risk for using a gun for criminal activity.

    2.Most criminals are lazy, not stupid, and the risk of extra time for using or possessing a gun will cause them to use and carry less.

    So, why wouldn’t we do this? The answer is that there are too many people owning the view that the criminals are just victims of their environment/oppression/Republicans/white-males/rich-people/etc.., and stronger punishment for gun use and possession would not be fair to these poor victims of their environment.

    Personally, I would be in favor of enhanced punishment rules for gun use and criminal possession that includes life in prison. I think we need to move to zero tolerance for guns being used by criminals and/or for criminal activity, and 100% tolerance for law-abiding citizens to own, carry and use guns for safety, hunting and target shooting.

  7. David M. Greenwald

    “IMO, a long, long time… “

    And your opinion is based on some fictitious crime that was never committed by these defendants. You are holding them responsible for what might have happened rather than what did happen.

  8. David M. Greenwald

    “Personally, I would be in favor of enhanced punishment rules for gun use and criminal possession that includes life in prison. “

    So you believe that a 20 year old kid who makes a mistake but doesn’t actually hurt anyone should spend the rest of their life in prison. That’s hard to imagine.

  9. Frankly

    [i]”So you believe that a 20 year old kid who makes a mistake but doesn’t actually hurt anyone should spend the rest of their life in prison.”[/i]

    A 20 year old with a criminal record having an illegal gun in his possession is not just “making a mistake”.

    However, I think you are missing the larger point. A gun used in crime is the social problem. Otherwise guns are not a problem. Accidental shooting deaths are a miniscule statistic in comparison to many other things that tend to kill people… for example, bathtubs.

    Let’s say for the sake of argument that criminals were using bathtubs to injure and kill people while committing crimes. We might just outlaw bathtub ownership saying that people should just be happy taking showers. Or, as an alternative, we could develop a zero tolerance for bathtubs being used for crime, so the rest of us can continue to enjoy our freedom to own and use bathtubs… accepting the risk that we might accidentally die doing so.

    So there are going to be more 20 year old criminals that get longer prison sentences if they ignore the zero tolerance laws and use a gun to commit a crime. Two points:

    One – Too bad, so sad. Don’t commit crimes with a gun, and don’t possess one after you get a felony criminal record.

    Two – Once the word is out related to our zero tolerance, fewer 20-year olds will make that “mistake” knowing the consequences. If they do it anyway, then go back to point # one.

  10. David M. Greenwald

    You are correct it is not just a mistake it’s a crime. That’s not a point in dispute. The point in dispute is the appropriate way to handle it from both the standpoint of the defendant and also society as a whole. The problem with zero tolerance is that most 20 year olds are not thinking with a very long time horizon.

    I was on a conference call talking about lwop for juveniles, and at some point you are just not locking the same person in prison that you sent there. I don’t want any laws that take the discretion out of the hands of the people who are actually working with individuals who are incarcerated.

  11. JustSaying

    “They were also found to be Norteño gang members from Woodland and to have been engaging in criminal street activity.

    Can you be a little more specific? I think it’s quite difficult to give much feedback about what prison terms are appropriate without knowing their criminal histories. It may be Mr. Hernandez, who “has a prior conviction for battery, causing great bodily injury,” should get a different sentence than the other gang members involved in the current criminal activity.

    (I would give each of the adults a basic three-year term for dragging in a 14-year-old along and dumping the gun on him to assure he’ll get locked up in juvenile hall for years. Disgusting.)

    I wanted to compliment you on the apparent fair presentation of the prosecution case (prior to your labeled commentary). Then, I realized you failed to offer up a fair report on the defense case. What happened? Am I going to have to start getting on you about balanced reporting?

    I think you’ve mixed up the right and left responsibilities for our current sentencing restrictions. Yes, the left wants to limit the number and types of guns we’re allowed to have. It’s the right, including the NRA members, however, who demand strict prison terms for people who use guns while committing crimes.

    I’d like to add a consideration to this issue about “people are not hurt” unless a gun gets fired and injures or kills someone. How can we measure the daily damage done in a community in which gangs rule with guns and constant threats? People get hurt just because they have to live in such a gun-enforced neighborhoods, even if they don’t end up getting shot intentionally or by accidentally.

  12. jimt

    Wow, I hadn’t heard this story; sounds like the police may have gotton there just in time to prevent mayhem.
    Kudos to Woodland PD. Another example of why gangs recruit young teens, in order to foist their criminal activities on the youngsters, glad the police and justice system did not buy that the young teen was the only responsible party. Thank goodness this crew are off the streets.
    A decade behind bars sounds about right to me. Would they not be eligible for parole within a decade, even with a 15 year sentence? They’ll come out near 30 years old, more mature and less likely to commit idiotic mayhem than at age 20, when they still feel immortal.

    I’m with Jeff on minimizing guns in the hands of criminals, and possibly increasing the number of guns in the hands of responsible (appropriately screened) citizens. It changes the equation on the streets. And I’d like to reproduce JustSaying above:

    “I’d like to add a consideration to this issue about “people are not hurt” unless a gun gets fired and injures or kills someone. How can we measure the daily damage done in a community in which gangs rule with guns and constant threats? People get hurt just because they have to live in such a gun-enforced neighborhoods, even if they don’t end up getting shot intentionally or by accidentally.”

    You nailed it JustSaying! There is a constant intimidation factor in such neighborhoods (I have lived briefly in such a neighborhood), I suspect most of the law-abiding people in the community are breathing a sigh of relief to be rid of these guys.

  13. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]ERM: “IMO, a long, long time… ”

    DMG: And your opinion is based on some fictitious crime that was never committed by these defendants. You are holding them responsible for what might have happened rather than what did happen.[/quote]

    My opinion is based on a number of factors and not on some “fictitious crime” that you have ascribed to my thought processes:
    1. Career criminals with long rap sheets.
    2. Out on parole and knew it was illegal to possess a gun, but did it anyway w impunity.
    3. Tried to pawn off the gun on a 14 year old, corrupting a young kid – so he would serve their time.
    4. Brought the gun to a schoolyard full of innocent children.
    5. The gun in question was a machine gun – designed to kill people. It was not a hunting weapon or one that could be argued to be for target practice.
    6. These defendants were known gang members.

    The facts taken as a whole make it clear to anyone with an ounce of common sense these defendants are incorribles, who will not obey the law, will corrupt youth, and are determined to possess weapons for killing people even though the terms of their parole make it a crime to do so. They belong in prison and off the streets for a good long time.

    Perhaps you need to interview some crime victims like the girl I mentioned who was paralyzed from the waist down in her early twenties – you might find it sobering… or visit a morgue where crime victims reside…

  14. medwoman

    “They belong in prison and off the streets for a good long time. “

    I am completely with you on this one. This is truly a matter of public safety. For whatever reason, these young men would appear to have absorbed a set of values that makes them a danger to the community. For me, this is in no way about punishing them .
    It is not about making them pay for something they did not do as David seems to be implying with the reference to pre crime. This is about men who do not yet appear to have absorbed enough sense to appreciate the danger that their actions represent to themselves and others. For their own safety, and that of the community as a whole, they should be placed in a setting where they have no access to weapons of this type until they have attained a level of maturity where they would be unlikely to act in such a rash and dangerous manner. For many inmates, according to my inside source, that tends to occur at around age 40, making that around 20 year sentence not seem quite so egregious.

  15. Frankly

    My experience with young people, and criminals, is that they will ping and pong to the edges of the line of rules… testing the limits of what they think they can get away with. But, when they hit a hard line, they will generally go find something else to test.

    We have set a hard line with drinking and driving and this has largely worked. The numbers of drunk-driving tragedies are down significantly per capita since we got tough. We need to do the same for guns. Just like for autos, guns bring a tremendous risk and they require a commensurate level of responsibility. We need a hard line. No “mistakes” are allowed for this one. Use a gun to commit a crime, or get caught possessing a gun after being convicted of a felony, and you go to jail for a long, long time.

    Zero tolerance.

    Hard line.

    The message will get out.

    The gun violence problem will be largely solved.

    I really don’t think this problem is too complicated. However, it is made complicated by all the people owning an anti-gun agenda (i.e., if we solve the problem this way, law-abiding people will still have all those terrible guns) and dysfunctional empathy for criminals (i.e., it is “not fair” given the criminals age or upbringing).

  16. Downtown

    The glaring flaw in the “woe to the young men” tone is this: the purchase of the Tec-9 violated numerous laws. Palacios didn’t simply walk into a gun shop and purchase it. The purchase or sale of a Tec-9 is illegal in California (and as a California resident, he couldn’t legally have bought it out of state). He also “bought” a hi-capacity magazine, the transfer of which is illegal.

    The Defendants committed several felonies just by “purchasing” an illegal firearm (no one has pointed out that they couldn’t legally buy it; it had to have been an illegal street sale). They committed several other felonies by being in possession of it. Even the stringent gun laws out there weren’t enough to dissuade them. They tried to get a juvenile to take the fall.

    Sheltered in Davis, most people have no idea how bad the gang problem is in Woodland, and the enormous impacts it has on the community. If, by making an example of these felons, the convictions save a few lives, and help persuade a kid or two not to join a gang, they’re a good thing.

  17. Mom37

    So basically to sum this whole story up, these young men got years and years in a state prison for having a gun? Not for shooting it, not for killing no one with it and not hurting no one with it?

    Sounds to me there is a lot of should of, would of could of!!

    Absolutely amazing, they were all convicted! For what having a gum? Seriously just for having a fun!

    Sounds to me someone has a personal issue with young Mexican men!

    Do you know how crazy this shit sounds to be locked up for many years for having a gun?
    BULL CRAP, what is wrong with this country?

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