Six protesters facing felony charges over an anti-Trump Inauguration Day demonstration were acquitted Thursday, ThinkProgress reports.
All six defendants faced seven charges stemming from the protest. The charges included conspiracy to riot, engaging in a riot, and five counts of criminal property destruction, even though the Department of Justice admitted they had no evidence these specific people were involved in the violence that took place during the protest.
Instead, the United States government argued that the six defendants were as guilty as people who smashed windows because they participated in the same protest.
The jury returned 42 not guilty verdicts Thursday after the Trump administration failed to sell their dubious argument. It took the jury just over a day to return their verdicts.
The government is still planning to try hundreds of other protests for similar charges in connection to the protest. And they tried hard to put these six people away, but were plagued by glitches, via ThinkProgress:
The prosecution had sent them back with an immense amount of information, including hours and hours of videos from Inauguration Day. The government put special care into streamlining that pile of footage, crafting special PowerPoint presentations for each defendant. Jurors were instructed in how to use the presentations — a map of the group’s route overlaid with hyperlinks to slow-mo video highlights that allegedly captured a given defendant’s movements and actions throughout the march.
From PowerPoint to basic Windows errors, technology and its glitches played an outsized role throughout the trial. Despite taking the unprecedented step of charging almost everyone detained as though they’d committed property crimes themselves, the government still has to give jurors specific evidence of individual activity. Video clips, edited to within an inch of their life and strung together with others to give context, were the soul of the government’s case.
But at its heart, this case is about civil rights, civil disobedience, and the line between being present at a crime and being complicit in it.
One of the defense attorneys in the case compared the government’s argument to prosecuting every fan who wore the same jersey at a football game because a few fans wearing the jersey were involved in a brawl.
“The law makes clear that you can be present while others are rioting, and you don’t have to leave,” Steve McCool, the defense attorney for one of the defendants, told the court. “Think about where we would be if they could simply call protesters criminals.”
Assistant US Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff argued that the defendants were somehow not allowed First Amendment rights because they wore masks.
“You can be a journalist, and riot. You can be a medic, and riot. You can be expressing your First Amendment views, and riot,” she said in court before urging jurors to “protect the First Amendment by not allowing it to be used as a mask for their crimes.”
“Protesters have the right to protect their identity from extremists,” McCool argued, successfully.