Jury in racketeering case voted to strip the club of its trademarked logo, but judge will rule on 1st Amendment implications
A jury that convicted the Mongols motorcycle club, also known as Mongols Nation, of racketeering also decided that the Mongols should be stripped of their trademark as part of their punishment.
U.S. District Judge David Carter declined immediate forfeiture and instead set up a hearing for next month to address the First Amendment implications of this verdict.
In a first-of-its-kind verdict Friday, a federal jury ruled the Mongols motorcycle gang should be stripped of its trademarked logo.
The jury in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, Calif., previously found the Mongol Nation guilty of racketeering and conspiracy. The verdict was the second phase of a trial that focused on forfeiture of assets and it caps a decade-long quest by prosecutors to dismantle the gang claimed to be responsible for drug dealing and murder.
. . . . Authorities claim the group’s logo — a Genghis Khan-like figure with sunglasses and a ponytail riding a motorcycle, which is worn on the back of the Mongols members’ leather vests — is directly linked to the club’s crimes.
. . . . Gang members were “empowered by these symbols that they wear like armor,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Welk said.
U.S. District Judge David O. Carter declined to immediately order the logos forfeited and set a hearing next month to address possible First Amendment issues raised by the verdict.
Given that my knowledge base on biker clubs or gangs is limited to the Sons of Anarchy television show, I had to do a bit of research on the Mongols MC and found the following History Channel Gangland docuseries episode.
Not exactly the boys next door for most of us, but the question here isn’t whether or not we approve of or like these bikers but whether or not it is acceptable or even Constitutional to strip them of their trademarked logo as punishment for a racketeering conviction.
The government’s pursuit of the trademarks is a novel legal strategy, based on the idea that control of the trademarks would not only cut off the stream of money that Mongols leaders collect from selling patches and other merchandise to members but would also empower government officials to stop Mongols members from wearing any clothing with the potent Mongol image.
An effort to bar Mongols members from displaying the logo, trademark experts and constitutional scholars said, would run the risk of crossing constitutional lines set out by the 1st Amendment, which protects people’s rights to associate freely and express themselves.
“Just because you’re found to be a criminal, you don’t lose your 1st Amendment rights,” said Jeffrey Pearlman, interim director of the Intellectual Property & Technology Law Clinic at USC Gould School of Law. “What the government seems to be trying to do is prevent these people from associating with each other.”
But Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at UC Berkeley, said the government likely has the law on its side.
He pointed to a 1993 case in which a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled the government was within its rights when it seized and destroyed all the contents in adult bookstores owned by a man who had been convicted under the same federal racketeering laws used in the Mongols case.
“I think the government’s action seizing speech should violate the First Amendment, but [the earlier case] will make the First Amendment claim difficult,” he wrote in an email.
In an interesting twist to the case, former pro-wrestler and Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura was a Mongol back in the ’70s, and he testified at the trial that the Mongols are not a criminal gang. The difference between a motorcycle “gang” and “club” seems to be open to interpretation, and the attorney challenging the verdict is arguing, in part, that the Mongols are a club, not a gang.
Prosecutors wouldn’t comment Friday on what would happen going forward. But defense lawyer Joseph Yanny questioned whether the judge would actually issue such an order and said the novel theory was ill-conceived.
“If you were a law enforcement officer and you knew there was a gang out there and they had emblems on that identifies who they are, why in God’s name would you want to take them off of them so you couldn’t know who they were?” Yanny said. “It’s the stupidest thing.”
Yanny, who is challenging the convictions, argued at trial that the organization was a club, not a gang, that didn’t tolerate criminal activity. He said the government targeted the group because of its large Mexican-American population and turned the crimes of some into a “group conviction.”
In November, former pro wrestler and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura testified for the defense, denying the Mongols were a criminal gang. Ventura said he neither committed crimes nor was told to do so when he was a Mongol in the 1970s.
But jurors found the Mongols were a criminal enterprise responsible for murder, attempted murder and drug dealing.
Jazz over at Hot Air asks some interesting questions:
The way the ruling is being described implies that cops who see members riding around wearing jackets with the Mongol colors on them will be able to pull them over and forcibly take their jackets away. Despite all the criminal activity they engage in, those not in prison still have the same civil rights as anyone else and are entitled to free speech, right? (I would say the same for the Bloods and the Crips.)
Unless someone else takes over the copyright of the image, this decision shouldn’t force them to stop wearing the badge, should it? And even if someone does obtain the copyright, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t wear it. They just wouldn’t be able to continue selling Mongols Nation paraphernalia (is that seriously something that happens?) and profiting from it.
The Mongols currently hold a trademark on their logo. Click here for some fun facts on trademark v. copyright.DONATE
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