Monday, May 18, 2009

Defending Convention Dissent in St. Paul

On May 15, 2009, Judge Wilson of the Ramsey County District Court granted RNC defendant Sean McCoy's motion for a new trial. So far, St. Paul has prosecuted ten defendants on 34 charges without a single conviction involving arrests during the Republican Convention last summer. Many defendants in Denver similarly defeated unfounded charges that arose from mass arrests. Thanks to lawyers like Bruce Nestor (of the National Lawyers Guild, Minnesota) and Denver's NLG People's Law Project, protestors who demonstrate around national political conventions are avoiding costly convictions. But how long are we going to let this pattern persist?

Aggressive policing, pre-emptive arrests, paramilitarized cops, and intolerance for dissent repeatedly mark our "national security special events." But legal proceedings after the events -- from LA (DNC 2000) to NYC (RNC 2004), Seattle (WTO 1999) to Miami (FTAA 2003) and DC -- keep showing that the arrests do not meet the standards of the law. In addition, the government spends millions to arm local police with the latest in high-tech crowd suppression weaponry, rather than addressing the social needs that often prompt protest.

According to Nestor, McCoy had originally faced four misdemeanor charges and was convicted of a petty misdemeanor offense of Public Assembly without a Permit and ordered to pay a fine of $50.00. At trial, a Ramsey County acquitted him of Fleeing a Police Officer and the trial judge threw out charges of Unlawful Assembly and Obstructing Traffic. The order granting the Motion for New Trial found that the jury instructions were flawed because they omitted the element of the offense that a person had to know they were engaged in a public assembly without a permit. The St. Paul City Attorney now has the option of retrying McCoy on the Public Assembly without a Permit charge.