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Prosecutors and police must not use criminal charges to chill free expression rights

Fairfax criminal lawyer on the need not to use criminal prosecution to chill free expression

Oct 19, 2016 Prosecutors and police must not use criminal charges to chill free expression rights

A North Dakota judge recently declined to allow a riot prosecution against Democracy Now journalist Amy Goodman, where at worst (if at all) she could have been charged with being on property that she was not allowed to be on (but the prosecutor reversed that path before seeking a rioting charge), when covering the oil pipeline protest in that state. That interim victory for Goodman apparently does not preclude the prosecutor from going to another judge to seek to bring such a rioting prosecution against her.

Meanwhile, rioting charges are proceeding against actress Shailene Woodley over her presence at the pipeline protest. I do not know how many other people are being charged with rioting over the pipeline protest.

North Dakota law defines rioting as: “a public disturbance involving an assemblage of five or more persons which by tumultuous and violent conduct creates grave danger of damage or injury to property or persons or substantially obstructs law enforcement or other government function.” N. Dakota Crim. Code § 12.1-25-01. That definition involves vagueness and overbreadth, and does not cover Amy Goodman’s behavior that I have seen online on video.

Regardless of what Amy Goodman did or did not do at the pipeline protest, prosecutors and police must not use criminal charges to chill free expression rights.

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