activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Tag: tim dechristopher

year-end wrap-up: updates on 2012 posts

NDAA: On January 13, a group of journalists and activists sued President Obama regarding the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which Obama signed on December 31, 2011. Four months later, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest granted a preliminarily injunction barring enforcement of the NDAA section that allows indefinite detention of anyone who has “substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” Another four months passed before Judge Forrest granted a permanent injunction barring enforcement of that section; but the U.S. government appealed, and in October the Second Circuit Court of Appeals granted the government’s motion for a stay of Forrest’s injunction pending a decision on the government’s appeal. Meanwhile, the NDAA of 2013 could further expand the government’s power to hold people in military detention indefinitely.

RNC: The 2012 Republican National Convention protests were surprisingly calm. According to an August 31 New York Times article, no one broke windows, no tear gas filled the air, and only two people were arrested:

The lack of disturbances stood in stark contrast to the last three Republican conventions, when street battles between the police and protesters resulted in numerous arrests and prompted a flurry of court fights about police actions.

The number of protesters at this year’s RNC was smaller than expected due in part to Hurricane Isaac, the storm that caused Republican officials to cancel most proceedings scheduled for the first day of the convention.

Domestic Workers Bill of Rights: California Governor Jerry Brown displayed a lack of empathy predictable only among politicians by vetoing a bill of rights for domestic workers on September 30. Michelle Chen, a contributing editor at In These Times, describes what exactly Brown axed:

The highly anticipated Domestic Workers Bill of Rights would have enacted major protections for tens of thousands of housekeepers, nannies and other caregivers and closed loopholes ignored by federal labor law. It would have extended California’s policies for overtime pay and workers’ compensation, and helped ease in-house workers’ arduous, sometimes-abusive work routines by providing for a set amount of sleep and the ability to cook one’s own food.

Tim DeChristopher: After serving 15 months in prison, Utah climate activist Tim DeChristopher was admitted to a halfway house in Salt Lake City at the end of October. The local First Unitarian Church offered him a job with its social justice ministry. Yet a Bureau of Prisons official said he couldn’t work at the church because the job involved social justice, which was related to DeChristopher’s crime; so he accepted a job at a bookstore instead.

Pussy Riot: Two of the three infamous members of the punk collective Pussy Riot are now serving the rest of their two-year sentences at some of the harshest women’s penal colonies in Russia. (An appeals court released the third woman on bail in October.) They were transported there around October 23. According to an October 29 New York Times post by Masha Gessen, discussing several recent incidents of political repression in Russia,

Anyone can be arrested for legal, peaceful protest — and any one of those arrested can be chosen, at random, to spend days, months or years in prison.

One month later, on November 29, a Moscow court ruled that videos of Pussy Riot performances fell under a law meant to control hate speech. The New York Times reported the following:

The court called for limiting public access to Web sites and blogs displaying the videos. But the ruling is unlikely to cut off access to them, since it applies only to servers in Russia. … Thursday’s ruling cited “psycho-linguistic research” proving that the videos “humiliate various social groups based on their religious beliefs” and contain “hidden calls to rebellion and nonsubmission to authority.”

Jeremy Hammond: After anarchist hacker Jeremy Hammond was put in solitary confinement for five days around the time Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska denied him bail. He has been incarcerated for more than nine months. A release from Anonymous subsequently reported that Judge Preska is married to a client of Stratfor, the very intelligence contractor whose servers Hammond allegedly gained access to, costing the company millions and focusing “worldwide attention on the murky world of private intelligence,” according to a November 2012 Rolling Stone article. Hammond’s attorneys are trying to get Preska removed as the judge in his case, because of her apparent bias.

new play considers the morality of punishing political crimes more severely

Although it arguably violates the First Amendment, judges still consider defendants’ political beliefs and public statements when deciding on sentences. This occurred, for example, in the cases of Lynne Stewart and Tim DeChristopher. Today’s New York Times includes an article by playwright David Mamet on his new play related to the morality of punishing political crimes more severely than other offenses:

In “The Anarchist” a woman has been convicted of murder, for participation in a bank robbery by a self-proclaimed political organization. She has served 35 years, a big portion of her life sentence, and pleads to be released; if the crime were mere robbery-murder and not deemed political, she would, by custom, have been paroled, with good behavior. Her argument has merit.

The rationale for continued incarceration under these circumstances is that in light of the prisoner’s beliefs, she poses more of a threat than someone convicted of a murder unrelated to ideology. But is this true? And even if so, isn’t it inconsistent – as Mamet points out – for a court to disregard political motives when it comes to mitigating factors but give them weight when it comes to aggravating ones?

happy birthday to former movement lawyer lynne stewart

Thirty-five years ago, Lynne Stewart was admitted as an attorney in New York. During her career, she represented activists such as David Gilbert, after the 1981 Brink’s armored-car robbery in Rockland County. In June, a panel of federal judges upheld her 10-year prison sentence for “providing aid to terrorism,” because she allegedly shared statements from Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, her client in a terrorism case, with his followers (via a press release).

As in Tim DeChristopher’s case, the judge who sentenced Stewart in 2010 cited some of her public statements, including a comment that she could serve her original sentence of 28 months “standing on my head.” The three-judge panel reviewing her 10-year sentence decided that consideration of her public statements did not violate her First Amendment rights. Yet Stewart shouldn’t be punished for her beliefs or public comments, the contents of which – in the words of a Los Angeles Times editorial in March – “don’t justify a quadrupling of her sentence.”

Today is Stewart’s birthday. You can send her birthday wishes by writing her at the following address:

Lynne Stewart #53504-054
Federal Medical Center, Carswell
P.O. Box 27137
Fort Worth, TX 76127

court of appeals upholds activist tim dechristopher’s felony convictions

Two days before a 2008 oil and gas lease auction in Salt Lake City, Utah, environmental groups filed suit in federal court seeking to prevent leases from issuing on the 77 parcels. They reached an agreement with federal lawyers allowing the auction to go forward, with the understanding that a federal judge could issue a restraining order as to the parcels sold. A judge ultimately did issue such an order, and the Obama administration later rescinded the leases, which would have allowed drilling near Arches National Park and Dinosaur National Monument.

On the day of the auction, however (before the restraining order and withdrawal of the leases), a University of Utah student named Tim DeChristopher signed a bidder registration form and won almost $1.8 million in bids – 14 parcels totaling roughly 22,600 acres. He couldn’t pay the required downpayment, as he was there to protect public lands from drilling, so a grand jury issued a two-count indictment against him. The district court granted the government’s motion to prevent him from presenting a necessity defense, a jury convicted him, and he was sentenced to two years in prison.

Today the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction, stating that the district court did not violate the Constitution by taking DeChristopher’s beliefs and statements into account when imposing the sentence:

The context makes clear that the court, far from punishing Defendant for the content of his public statements, simply relied on those statements to determine the sentence necessary to deter Defendant from future violations and to promote respect for the law. Defendant’s statements that he would “continue to fight” and his view that it was “fine to break the law” were highly relevant to these sentencing factors. So the district court did not violate the First Amendment by considering Defendant’s public statements when imposing sentence.

Had the district court imposed a shorter sentence on DeChristopher because of his beliefs, that would have been understandable. Yet U.S. District Judge Dee Benson said it was “a continuing trail of statements by Mr. DeChristopher about his advocacy, as he calls it civil disobedience, and that he will continue to fight, and I am prepared to go to prison, then others are going to have to be prepared to go with me [sic], that causes me to feel under the sentencing laws before me that a term of imprisonment is required.”

Somehow the Tenth Circuit concluded this was “far from punishing [DeChristopher] for the content of his public statements.” Quite the opposite.