There is a bizarre case out of Fresno California where Enrique Gonzalez faced lifetime imprisonment for “aggravated mayhem and street terrorism” because he allowed his 7-year-old son to have a quarter-sized tattoo on his right hip. While Fresno County Superior Court Judge Hillary Chittick wisely rejected the excessive charge of mayhem by the prosecutors, he still faces years in jail for cruel and inhumane treatment of a child.
Gonzalez is allegedly a member of the notorious Fresno Bulldog gang (named after the school mascot) and the tattoo was a gang symbol of a bulldog paw. Also arrested was alleged fellow gang member Travis Gorman. There is a conflict of testimony as to whether the boy wanted the tattoo.
His mother Tequisha Oloizia said that he was held down while witnesses insisted that he wanted the tattoo. If held down against his will, I can certainly understand a higher felony charge. However, the attempt at mayhem was out of bounds — as the court ultimately ruled. There does not appear to have been intent by the father to harm or hurt the boy — albeit a reprehensible and abusive act. As for “street terrorism,” it is part of the corruption of the criminal code to expand the meaning of terrorism to encompass a wide variety of conventional crimes.
The problem with the original charge is that state law makes it a misdemeanor to give a tattoo to a child under 18. That comes with a six-month sentence. (There is also presumably charges for administering tattoos without a permit). Yet, the prosecutors appear to have elevated the punishment in part due to the content of the tattoo — a gang symbol. Obviously, there are plenty of cultures that tattoo children. Those parents are also subject to misdemeanor charges. However, if the tattoo is related to a gang symbol the prosecutors were willing to fight for a life sentence. That raises an interesting free speech question. However, the primary question is one of the meaning and integrity of the criminal code. If these prosecutors were successful, mayhem would lose any definable meaning. Other parents allow girls to have their ears pierced and other cosmetic measures that cause pain.
I have no sympathy for Gonzalez and seriously question whether he should be allowed to raise the child. Tattooing children with gang symbols strikes me as a basis to remove the child from the home. However, the tattoo itself is already covered under the state criminal code as a misdemeanor not a crime akin to murder. The issue of force is a legitimate matter for enhancing the punishment, but the prosecutors weakened the credibility of their case with the original charge of mayhem.
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