OP-ED: Thousands of African-Americans Jailed by Void Restraining Orders

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By Conrad Baldwin

Did California’s courts issue thousands of void and unenforceable restraining orders between 1999 and 2007? Did those void orders cause the false arrest and jailing of thousands of young African-American men, many of whom may still be in prison?

The answer is yes, according to this author and legal researcher in my new book, “The Void Generation: How a Generation of Void Restraining Orders Voided the Lives of a Generation,” which was selected for review in the current issue of Forum, the official publication of the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, by assistant editor and veteran Deputy L.A. County Public Defender Al Menaster.

“The Void Generation” demonstrates with 47 public documents that between 1999 and 2007, the governing arm of the State courts, the Judicial Council of California, published 13 void and unenforceable restraining order forms, then refused to supply the courts with an alternative form.

With no valid forms available for their use, California’s courts were compelled to issue all of their restraining orders on void and unenforceable forms, which may have caused the false arrest of thousands of young African-American men who were jailed without a warning notice or a prior court hearing for allegedly violating California Penal Code Section 12021(g)(2) by “owning or possessing a firearm.”

De Jenny "CandyMan" Davis, Danny Glover and the author discussing "The Void Generation" at the Marcus Books benefit in Oakland last month. Photo by South Park Kenneth Johnson.

The public documents illustrating “The Void Generation” demonstrate that a Notice Regarding Firearms and a Firearm Restriction notice printed in the restraining order forms published by the Judicial Council between Jan. 1, 1999 and Jan. 1, 2007 violated state and federal law by:

Requiring respondents to give up any firearms they “owned or possessed” without a court hearing;

Ambiguously stating the court “has authority” to order firearms surrendered, not that it “will”;

Failing to warn the restrained person they were prohibited from “owning or possessing a firearm”.

“The Void Generation” includes two official Judicial Council reports, one from April 17, 2000 and the other from October 5, 2000, which detail the invalid firearms prohibition notices contained in the restraining order forms DV-110, DV-130, and MC-220.

Also included are excerpts from the Minutes of two Judicial Council meetings on April 28, 2000 and Oct. 27, 2000 demonstrating that the Judicial Council failed to revise the invalid firearms prohibitions in these three restraining order forms until July 1, 2000 and Jan. 1, 2001, long after these mandatory forms were voided by the Jan. 1, 2000 enactment of the 1999 California Senate Bill 218.

According to the judicial forms illustrating The Void Generation, the Judicial Council failed to revise many of California’s restraining order forms to prohibit “owning or possessing a firearm” for more than four years after the enactment of Senate Bill 218, and failed to revise the firearm restriction notice in the criminal court restraining order Form MC-220 to correctly refer to a prior court hearing until that form was finally discontinued on Jan. 1, 2007.

An included Judicial Council report admits Council staff refused to publish an alternative “one-page form that could be attached to the appropriate forms” to warn respondents they are prohibited from “owning or possessing a firearm” because “attaching the warning to every restraining order might be burdensome to court clerks and individuals.”

An included study by California’s Criminal Justice Statistics Center found that over 12,000 people may have been arrested and jailed between Jan. 1, 1999 and Jan. 1, 2000 for allegedly violating these void restraining orders. And an included study by three professional researchers from the UCLA School of Public Health reports that almost two-thirds of those arrested for allegedly violating these void restraining orders were young African-American men between the ages of 25 and 34.

“The Void Generation” includes binding decisions by several appellate courts that no court can issue, enforce, or uphold a void order and that no statutes of limitations apply to a void order. These decisions confirm that all of the restraining orders issued on these void Judicial Council forms can now be set aside and their innocent victims freed from false imprisonment and compensated for their damages.

“The Void Generation” concludes with a quote from the 1958 appellate case of Fritz v. Krugh, holding that a void order “as we all know, grounds no rights, forms no defense to actions taken thereunder, and is vulnerable to any manner of collateral attack“ and even years later, “when the memories may have grown dim and rights long been regarded as vested, any disgruntled litigant may reopen old wounds and once more probe their depths.”

“And it is then as though trial and adjudication had never been.”

Conrad Baldwin is the author of “The Void Generation: How a Generation of Void Restraining Orders Voided the Lives of a Generation.”

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