Some Arrested with DC Mayor to Challenge Arrests
||Associated Press News Service (AP)
||Friday, May 6, 2011
WASHINGTON — A handful of people who were arrested during a recent Capitol Hill protest alongside D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said Thursday they will challenge their arrests in court.
A total of 41 people, including Gray, were arrested April 11 after sitting down and blocking Constitution Avenue near the U.S. Capitol. The group was protesting a compromise federal budget deal that imposed new restrictions on the city, including a voucher program and a ban on the city using local money to pay for abortions for poor women. The city, protesters said, had been used as a pawn in negotiations.
After their arrests, the mayor and most of the protesters paid a $50 fine to get out of jail and have charges dropped. But 14 protesters opted for a court date instead. That group made a first appearance Thursday in Superior Court. Some decided to get their charges dropped by paying a fine, which had increased to $100. But a handful of others said they won't rest until they've had their day in court.
Eugene Kinlow, one of the protesters who intends to go forward with a trial, said the legal proceeding would be an opportunity to educate the public about the city's lack of representation in Congress. Kinlow is public affairs director for the group D.C. Vote, which lobbies for more independence for the city.
Magistrate Judge Richard Ringell told the group it was good to see people "standing up for what they believe." Ringell won't be the trial judge, however, and the group that goes forward likely has a tough case to make in contesting the charges of unlawful assembly and failing to obey police orders to disperse, a new charge added after their arrest that carries additional fines.
Ann Wilcox, a lawyer who is advising the group, said it is hard to challenge the fact that the group blocked the street. But the protesters may have a so-called "necessity defense," she said. Because D.C. residents don't have a member of Congress with the same voting rights that residents of all 50 states have, the group could argue that protesting is the only way for them to be heard, she said, though she and other lawyers will explore other options.
"The fact that we don't have a representative in Congress is a very compelling thing," Wilcox said, though she added that courts in Washington have been reluctant to go along with necessity defenses and that a judge, not a jury, would determine the outcome in this case.
Three other people arrested during similar demonstrations later in the same week in April also made initial court appearances Thursday. One of those arrested, Michael Brown, is one of two shadow senators for the District of Columbia, an elected position that comes with no salary and a responsibility to lobby on behalf of the city. Though not a senator in the traditional sense, Brown may have another defense to his arrest, said his attorney, Paul Strauss, the other shadow senator. Strauss said he would explore using the Constitution's "speech or debate" clause as a defense because it protects members from arrest.
A status hearing for those challenging their arrests was set for June 28.
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