In October, the New York Court of Appeals heard a case in which a member of the St. James Boys street gang was tried as a terrorist under a law passed after 9/11. Yesterday, the court ruled unanimously not to charge Edgar Morales under the law, saying there’s no evidence that legislators intended the law to cover gang violence, and ordering a new trial.

Prosecutors sought to prove that Morales’s crime–the killing of a 10-year-old bystander during a gang fight outside a church–sought to intimidate the entire population of the area, as the law defines terrorism as a crime committed with”intent to intimidate or coerce a civilian population.”

“If we were to apply a broad definition to ‘intent to intimidate or coerce a civilian population,’” wrote Judge Victoria Gaffeo, “the people could invoke the specter of ‘terrorism’ every time a Blood assaults a Crip or an organized crime family orchestrates the murder of a rival syndicate’s soldier.”

“But the concept of terrorism has a unique meaning and its implications risk being trivialized if the terminology is applied loosely in situations that do not match our collective understanding of what constitutes a terrorist act,” she added.

According to defense attorney Catherine Amirfar, the decision will have a widespread effect citing several states with similar laws on the books. “Their decision will impact not only how New York law enforcement can pursue terrorism,” she said, “but the rest of the nation, as well.”

(Photo: M.J. Moneymaker/Flickr)