Judge: US withheld evidence that may have cleared J20 defendants

A judge said that the US government hid potentially 'exculpatory' evidence in trial stemming from anti-Trump protest.

    A police officer tries to tackle a protester demonstrating against US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the inauguration [File: Adrees Latif/Reuters]
    A police officer tries to tackle a protester demonstrating against US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the inauguration [File: Adrees Latif/Reuters]

    A US judge of the Washington, DC, Superior Court has ruled that the government withheld evidence that could have potentially cleared defendants in an increasingly controversial trial of six Inauguration Day protesters. 

    On Wednesday, Jude Robert Morin agreed with the defence's claim that presenting an edited video as evidence constituted a violation of the Brady rule, which lays out the obligations of the state regarding potentially exculpatory evidence.

    The defence's lawyers had filed a motion for sanctions on the prosecutor and a dismissal of their clients' charges, which could land the defendants behind bars for several decades.

    The six defendants are among 59 people still facing a slew of felony charges over their alleged participation in anti-fascist and anti-capitalist rally against Trump's inauguration on January 20, 2017.

    During that demonstration, more than 230 people were arrested, and most were given a rioting charge.

    In April 2017, the DC Superior Court returned a superseding indictment that added several new charges related to rioting and property damage.

    While Morin agreed that Assistant US Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff illegally withheld evidence, the judge has yet to issue a final ruling on the motion to dismiss.

    The defendants' attorneys argued that the evidence was effectively withheld owing to the editing of a video taken during a pre-protest planning meeting.

    If the judge declines to dismiss the charges, the defence lawyers have requested that the video be suppressed during the trial.

    The video was provided to the prosecutors by Project Veritas, a far-right organisation known for targeting leftists and anti-fascists.

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    "The government has used attendance at this meeting and statements made during the meeting to allege that the defendants conspired to commit acts of violence and destruction on [January 20, 2017]," the defence's motion stated.

    "[The] defence is now in possession of the full unclipped video that proves the government misrepresented - in open court - the contents of the unclipped portion of the planning meeting."

    Mass arrests

    During the Inauguration Day rally, police arrested encircled and arrested upwards of 230 people, including protesters, bystanders, medics, legal observers and journalists.

    Many of them had their charges dropped, while others reached deals with the government in exchange for reduced charges.

    In January, the US Attorney's Office dropped charges for 129 defendants. In a court filing at the time, US Attorneys' Office for DC said it would focus on the remaining 59 defendants by dropping the charges against the other 129.

    In December 2017, the first batch of six defendants were found not guilty by a jury.

    "Assistant US Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff has repeatedly shown contempt for the legal process in her zeal to convict political activists," Sam Menefee-Libey of DC Legal Posse said in a press release on Wednesday.

    "Federal prosecutors are prepared to hide evidence, malign political organising and spend millions of taxpayer dollars in an attempt to put anti-Trump protesters behind bars for decades."

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    In February, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) filed a lawsuit against DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and Karl Racine in the US Attorney's office.

    The lawsuit seeks information about the relationship between the prosecutors and police and right-wing political groups, including Project Veritas.

    It accuses the District of Columbia of "unlawfully" denying a request to provide information the PCJF sought in a Freedom of Information Act filed in November 2017.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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