The D.C. Court of Appeals today overturned the convictions of a group of anti-war demonstrators at the White House in March 2007, saying prosecutors presented "no evidence whatsoever" that any regulation was violated.
The authorities improperly revoked the demonstrators' permit that night on a sidewalk in front of the White House, a three-judge panel said. More than 100 demonstrators had gathered. The court vacated 10 convictions.
“The demonstrators were exercising their First Amendment rights under a valid permit, and there is no evidence that the facts known to the police appeared to justify their revocation of that permit and consequent order to disperse,” Judge Stephen Glickman wrote for the panel, which include Judge Kathryn Oberly and Senior Judge John Ferren. The court's opinion is here.
A captain with the U.S. Park Police at some point during the protest said the participants were violating a federal regulation that prohibits stationary signs in the center of the White House sidewalk.
Demonstrators, according to the regulation, must “continue to move along the sidewalk.” The captain, Robert McClain, who did not testify at trial, revoked the demonstrators’ permit.
The people arrested at the White House were charged with failure to obey an order or crossing a police line. D.C. Superior Court Judge Joan Zeldon found the demonstrators guilty at a bench trial in June 2007. Court records show punishment included a $50 fine.
The appeals court criticized the government for its failure to present witnesses at trial who from personal knowledge could identify (save for one exception) any of the protesters who allegedly failed to obey an order or crossed a police line.
The defendants and the prosecutor agreed by stipulation that the identity of the demonstrators was not in dispute. The government then linked Park Police testimony to the stipulation in arguing the demonstrators were at the White House, committed a crime and should be found guilty.
“Troubled as we are by the adequacy of the proof of identification, we refrain from deciding these appeals on that issue,” the court said.
The appeals court said there was no evidence that any of the defendants were carrying signs the night the police rounded up protesters. And prosecutors, the court said, failed to show that any of the ten defendants crossed a police line.
Prosecutors argued that whether or not the police decision to revoke the demonstration permit was valid, the demonstrators had no right to refuse the order to leave.
Mark Goldstone, the court-appointed lawyer for the demonstrators, was not immediately reached for comment this morning.