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Non-violent protestors: Guilty until proven innocent

This is a press release from the group of protestors facing sentencing for blocking 5th Ave in NY in 2003. The judge has succeeded in unsealing records from dismissed cases in order to more stiffly punish them at sentencing. It makes the obvious connection with the hundreds of people that took ACDs during the RNC.
For Immediate Release

Date: 9/26/04

Ruling on Principle of "Innocent Until Proven Guilty" Tabled

(New York) Appellate division judges have ruled that prior dismissed and
sealed arrest records may be considered in seeking jail time for
political protesters. Defendants of a year-long non-violent protest
case announced this morning that the judges dismissed their Article 78
petition without prejudice, finding that instead the defendants could
challenge the District Attorney's use of dismissed and sealed
allegations on direct appeal.

According to lawyers close to the case, there is now nothing preventing
the sentencing court from considering the dismissed and sealed
allegations in determining whether it should impose the District
Attorney's request for jail time for these non-violent political
protestors. The defense was hoping for a definitive ruling from the
appellate court-before the sentence was imposed-upholding the principle
of "innocent until proven guilty" and preventing the District Attorney
from taking this unprecedented act.

"The Appellate Court avoided making the right decision. Criminal
Procedure Law Section 160.60 clearly states that following a dismissal
of charges 'the arrest and prosecution shall be deemed a nullity and the
accused shall be restored, in contemplation of law, to the status he
occupied before the arrest and prosecution.' For the trial judge to
consider such a "nullity" at sentencing not only defies logic, it
violates the law," said Lawyer Bruce Bentley, National Lawyers Guild,
NYC Chapter.

Civil liberties experts point out that in light of the City's actions
during the Republican National Convention, the broader implications of
the appellate court's failure to address this matter are great. The
City has offered ACD's (Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal) to
many of the nearly 2,000 individuals arrested that week. In the past,
an ACD would mean the case was considered a legal nullity -- there would
be no future ramifications from the dismissal. However, as a result of
this case, the District Attorney can now use the sealed dismissals
against those arrested at the RNC and other defendants in future cases
in the same way a prior conviction would be used. According to Civil
liberties lawyers, what was once considered an equitable way for the
criminal justice system to treat a criminal defendant now results in a
potentially dangerous outcome for political protestors.

"The DA's dredging up of dismissed cases as a basis to impose jail time
is an unprecedented measure meant to deter political speech. This
closely follows recent attempts by the City to change the rules in order
to intimidate political protest. Since when does a dismissed case mean
that you're guilty?" said Yeshiva University graduate student and
defendant Kate Barnhart.

The four defendants who face up to one year in jail are part of a
year-long case against 16 non-violent protesters who blocked 5th avenue
on March 26, 2003 to protest the Israeli occupation of Palestinian
territories and the invasion of Iraq. Their sentencing hearing is on
November 18th at 9:30 A.M., New York City Criminal Court, 100 Centre
Street, Manhattan, Arraignment Part 4 (4th Floor).

Contact: Lorne Lieb 646-246-1121
The General Defense Committee provides support to activists who fight for justice. If you would like information about Jail Support or other services we provide or if you would like to help us build a defense fund, please write to defense4 at mailbolt.com.