Category Archives: First Amendment

Florida Man Incarcerated for Streaming Video of a Trial

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Jonathan Clyde Davis

A man in North Florida was found in contempt of court last week and sentenced to 6 months in jail for posting a live stream of a trial on Facebook Live. Jonathan Davis was sentenced to 6 months in jail in Gainesville, which is the maximum possible sentence for contempt of court. Prosecutors indicated that witnesses were already reluctant to testify in the murder case that was going on, and that the streaming may have been a tactic to discourage participation.

However, there are several problems with this charge, primarily the First Amendment. People have a protected right to publish, and there’s nothing that would indicate that the courtroom had been closed. Generally open court is open court, and is not only open to the public, it is open to being recorded and being disseminated. (For that matter, all court proceedings are recorded). Apparently there is an administrative order that people must get permission to record or broadcast, but it is unclear if Mr. Davis knew about that order. There’s even an issue whether that order is Unconstitutional, though there is clearly an interest in the court in making sure cameras do not disrupt the proceedings.

At first blush this case is going to have difficulty holding muster on appeal. Apparently, he lied to the judge about what he was doing, and if the judge couched his conviction on that, he might be upheld. The Gainesville Sun spoke to UF Law professor Kenneth Nunn, who astutely points out that a Direct Contempt proceeding may not have even been appropriate since the Bailiff’s alerted the judge Mr. Davis’ activity. The fact that Mr. Davis was streaming is not itself inherently disruptive. One can appreciate why the court and the prosecutor are concerned, but the proceedings in open court are always public and subject to publication.

The State was still able to obtain a conviction on the second-degree murder charges.

Web Page Publishers Charged with Pimping

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Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer

Backpage.com is known among the criminal bar as a webpage that carries personal ads targeting ‘adult services’, like the old back pages of tabloid papers. It’s not unusual for that to be the source leading to prostitution arrests. California Attorney General Kamala Harris initiated these charges as part of a crackdown on human trafficking. As far as I know, it’s the first time a webpage publisher has faced criminal charges for a hosting-type situation. It will be interesting if these charges will hold up, and for the First Amendment ramifications for charging a publisher. Some of the facts cited by the LA Times are damning, as these men were making millions from the website, and there are shocking numbers of minors being trafficked by pimps on Backpage.

It is not a Crime to Tell Off the Government

Michael Barbosa, of Connecticut, was traveling through Liberty , New York, when he got a ticket for speeding. He was upset about it, but decided to pay the ticket. He wrote out a check, and mailed it back to Liberty, and he wrote a message on the ticket: “FUCK YOUR SHITTY TOWN BITCHES”.

The officials of Liberty, New York, did not appreciate his sentiment, and refused to accept his payment. They set a court date, sent him a summons, and he had to return to Liberty to appear. Much to his suprise, when he did appear, he was arrested for aggravated harassment.

Sadly for the town of Liberty, we have a First Amendment, and criticism of the government is absolutely protected by that Constitutional provision. Criticism of the government, some might say, is kind of the point of the right to freedom of speech. What do I know? Oh, I know the law, and the judge agreed, dismissing the case. Because- Constitutionally protected expression.

Also Sadly for the town of Liberty… not only did they spend time, money and other resources on their misguided prosecution of the case, but they also got sued by Mr. Barbosa and the ACLU. And they lost, because they arrested and tried to prosecute a citizen for exercising his Constitutional right to criticize the government. And even more tax dollars were blown by town of Liberty.

While Mr. Barbosa certainly chose an inartful method of expressing his disapproval of the government’s actions, he was completely within his rights to do so. It’s a shame… and ultimately a waste of taxpayer money for this misguided and vindictive prosecution.

Local Station gets to Air Interview with Alleged Domestic Terrorist

Terror Suspect Christopher Cornell

Terror Suspect Christopher Cornell

20-year-old Christopher Cornell was arrested a few weeks back for buying weapons for a planned attack on the White House and Congress. It was shocking in part, because the young man grew up in suburban Cincinnati, he graduated from the same high school that I did, where he competed on the wrestling team. He is facing multiple federal charges for his terrorism-related activities.

The story took a bizarre twist this week when Cornell contacted the local Fox affiliate, Fox 19, and longtime reporter and anchor Tricia Macke. He gave Macke an interview of about an hour via telephone from his Butler County jail cell. The interview is disturbing: Cornell details that if he had not been arrested, he would have shot the president and set off bombs in the Capitol and near the Israeli embassy. He states explicitly that he bought the guns with the intent of committing the acts.

The admissions are devastating for his defense in the pending criminal action, and his attorney sought to prevent Fox 19 from airing the interview. At issue was a court order from Cornell’s bond hearing that ordered no contact with him. At the hearing, the Defense attorney accused the reporter of criminal contempt for contacting him, although it was Cornell who initiated contact with Fox and Ms. Macke.

The First Amendment grants a great deal of freedom to the press to disseminate information that they have, and even gives Cornell a right to speak his mind. While the statements he made are extremely incriminating and devastating to his defense on the case, he has a right to say them. The court upheld that right and found the no contact order to be vague and unconstitutional. Generally, the court doesn’t have standing to order journalists not to interview news suspects: the initial order was probably more intended to protect Cornell’s right to remain silent. However; it’s his right and he can waive it. Kudos to Fox 19 for standing up for the First Amendment.

Aside

I’m glad they keep saying it, because maybe cops will stop arresting people who are exercising their First Amendment Rights. Earlier: CNN Wants to Remind You it is Legal to Record Officers This was our link a few months ago: https://crimcourts.wordpress.com/2014/11/20/cnn-wants-to-remind-you-it-is-legal-to-record-officers/

Supreme Court to Consider When Facebook Threats are True Threats

The Supreme Court is going to hear a case next week that will determine when threats posted on social media, in this case Facebook, rise to the level of a true threat. The case in question dealt with comments Anthony Elonis made toward his estranged wife (and others). He was convicted, sentenced to prison, and the case already upheld by the 3rd Circuit.

While the 1st Amendment gives protection to speech, that protection does not extend to ‘true threats’. This case will examine when musings posted on a Facebook wall are protected, and when they go to far. It will have ramifications in Florida, which has harsh punishments for Written Threats, which include social media posts under Florida law.

See Also: Felonies for Facebook posts

CNN Wants to Remind You it is Legal to Record Officers

CNN, as part of their Ferguson coverage, did a video piece on whether it is legal to record police officers. Yes, yes it is…

In the words of Jeffrey Mittman, the legal expert they spoke to, “you have an absolute right to make a document, a recording, of interactions with a government official.” He goes on to say it is improper for an officer to suggest otherwise. It was an issue with previous Ferguson protests where officers repeatedly told people to stop recording. People cannot physically interfere with an officer’s investigation, but merely making a recording does not do that. That’s a Constitutional right under the First Amendment.

http://www.cnn.com/video/api/embed.html#/video/us/2014/11/19/erin-dnt-sidner-police-mistrust-ferguson.cnn