RICO Does Not Apply to Garden-Variety Criminal Activity

In the case of Kevin Jackson versus the State of Florida, Mr. Jackson was convicted of racketeering (more commonly known as RICO), and conspiracy to commit racketeering. The relevant facts of Jackson's case are that:

 

In 1997 and 1998 the Miami-Dade Police Department began investigating drug sales which were occurring at Riverside Park in the Little Havana area of Miami. As a result of the investigation, 28 people (including Jackson) were charged with RICO and conspiracy to commit RICO as well as numerous other crimes. The prosecutor "acknowledged at trial that Jackson was not a gang member. He presented evidence that two gangs, the 'Latin Kings' and the 'YLO,' operated in the area. This evidence came from a detective with specialized experience with gangs. The detective testified regarding numerous undercover drug purchases made in the park, using undercover officers and confidential informants. These included some of the transactions involving Jackson.

 

The detective further testified that gang graffiti of both the Latin Kings and the YLO existed in the area, and the graffiti had not been crossed out. He offered his opinion that this meant the two gangs were engaged in a cooperative enterprise to control the drug trade at the park. He explained that in his experience, in the absence of some agreement, rival gangs would cross out each others' graffiti. There was no other testimony that the two gangs had formed a de facto association or joint venture to control the drug trade in the park."

 

Jackson appealed his convictions to Florida's Third District Court of Appeal which reversed Jackson's convictions for RICO and conspiracy to commit RICO for the following reasons:

 

1. According to Florida's RICO law, “[i]t is unlawful for any person employed by, or associated with, any enterprise to conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in such enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity.” An enterprise includes a criminal street gang as well as a "group of individuals associated in fact although not a legal entity." In Jackson's case, the detective's testimony regarding gang graffiti was not enough by itself to establish the existence of an association or joint venture between the two gangs to control the drug trade in the park.

 

2. No evidence was presented at Jackson's trial that tended to prove he was a member of either the Latin Kings or YLO.

 

3. No evidence was presented that proved he engaged in transactions with gang members or on behalf of gang members.

 

4. No evidence was presented that tended to prove he shared any of the money he earned from selling drugs with either gang.

 

5. The evidence showed only that Jackson sold cocaine in the park and that he was familiar with some other persons who were gang members. Such evidence, however, was not sufficient to convict him of either RICO or conspiracy to commit RICO.

 

6. The concept of a RICO enterprise should not be applied to garden-variety criminal undertakings, and the evidence in Jackson's case proved nothing more than just that.

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