Thursday, October 16, 2008

Verdict: Guilty by Association

Arthur, Anna (two of my children, both of whom are students at AB-Tech) and I endured our third full trial on the AB-Tech trespass charges yesterday. The results were not good. What sunk our ship was the incredible instructions to the jury from Judge Dennis Winner that virtually guaranteed a guilty verdict. Winner refused to give the jury the instructions on the law that Judge Baker gave them in our first State Superior Court trial earlier this year. Those instructions said that to be found guilty of trespass on public property we [as individuals] must have engaged in conduct that nullified the implied consent we had to be on the property.

However, Judge Winner’s instructions were that if any members of the “group” that were protesting engaged in improper conduct, then ALL members were guilty.

A female security guard (an obese one who could not in court conceal her emotion toward us for bringing the images of aborted babies to her campus) testified that one of the Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust gave her a belly/chest bump. Since Anna, Arthur and I had not seen this at the time, and had not even heard of it until she testified yesterday (she was not present in the other trials), and since we had no part in it, we could not contradict her testimony. And yet, despite no evidence whatsoever that we three had done anything to justify our arrest, according to the judge we were guilty. This is basically what the judge said to the jury!

I told a reporter for the Mountain Xpress that to the judge, we were guilty by association. The concept of guilt by association is roundly rejected in multiple U.S. Supreme Court decisions. The cases I read deal with membership in Communist organizations.

To illustrate his opinion, Judge Winner gave an example. If a group enters a store, he said outside of the hearing of the jury, and one of the members of the group robs the store, then all the members were guilty. How silly. So, if one of the members of the group slips a pack of chewing gum into his pocket and none of the other members knew of it, and none of the others heard about it later, then they all are guilty? The judge himself, after giving the example, quietly muttered about how this did not apply to us, but he did not supply another example.

The jury is always told to follow the judge’s instruction regardless of what they think about it. Juries of course can completely disregard the judge if they wish, but the general population is so devoid of independent thinkers, that in our case a guilty verdict was a foregone conclusion. Interestingly, the only person brought up to the jury who might have helped us had been dismissed from duty by the prosecution. He was a Warren Wilson College professor! I had been concerned about a professorfrom such a liberal school, but after the judge’s instructions, he might have been able to lead the jury in a more intelligent direction.

We, our attorney and us, could have done a better job of showing separation between us and the Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust. For example, when I heard that the Survivors were coming to this area, I asked Kortney, their Director, if they had a written Code of Conduct. My position was that we would only participate with the group if they abided by a code similar to what we use with the Genocide Awareness Project. Kortney had assured me that they were completely peaceful in their approach. We did not bring this out to the jury and I think we dropped the ball. But we only had the lunch hour yesterday to think.

During sentencing Judge Winner embarrassed me by making several references to his familiarity with my work, to his personal acquaintance with me, and to my outspoken nature when it comes to abortion. (Winner had been a NC State Senator.) He said, “It’s been 20 years, hasn’t it? He [Mr. Hunt} has not aged that much.” I could not speak without an invitation from the judge, so I just nodded and grinned stupidly. [I don't want to rub it in too much, but the judge said that he once taught Constitutional Law classes or a class at UNC-A, but he said he couldn't remember anything from it.]

Anna, Arthur, and I were sentenced to 10 days in jail, suspended. We were given one year unsupervised probation and told that we could not go onto the campus of AB-Tech except for standard educational purposes. In addition, each of us must pay court costs, which is $200 per person, I think. Anna and Arthur were not given this penalty, but I was also fined $200.

After the trial, the judge said to our attorney that his instructions to the jury, “had done it.”

We are thinking of appealing our conviction, the judge’s instructions on “the law,” and his denial of our motion to dismiss based on constitutional grounds (on AB Tech’s written policy on it’s face and as applied to us) to the NC Court of Appeals. This is the very court that issued the opinion we asked the judge to give to the jury as instructions on the law regarding trespass on public property.

2 comments:

spydyee said...

None of this would be happening if you and that group had listened to the numerous students that asked you to leave before going to the instructors and administrators. Do you realize that we have 15-year-old children on that campus? We all asked you to go to UNC Asheville. Your son told me that he would show the pictures to my teenager without my consent and that I did not have the right to decide what my child can and cannot see. EXCUSE ME? It was that remark that pushed me and several of my friends to go to the teachers who went to the administration for us. You were there ALL of you. Your son was involved in the argument that eventually escalated to the battery of a security officer. I would love to see all of you locked up. Respecting the parental rights of the parents of the Early College Kids, respecting my right as a student to get an education in a peaceful environment, and respecting the rights of students to request you to leave our campus is not something you did. I was there. I saw what you did. If they don't throw the book at you then maybe I will just sue you personally for disturbing my right to get a peaceful education. I have to maintain my grades or I lose my financial aid and protests like yours disturb my ability to do that. I have a form of Autism called Aspergers Syndrome and having loud disturbing protests interferes with my ability to learn. You only care about your agenda not about the greater good. You knew what kind of group you were there with and any reasonable person would know that they could become violent. You chose to be there at the same time as this group to further your agenda. Therefore, you are guilty. If you had been there for a different reason and got pulled into the discussion as many of the students did then things would be different. You went there at the same time as this group and you knew who they were and what they stand for. Their people make it a habit to get arrested to get attention. Anyone that knows about them knows this is what they do. Please stop trying to act like all they did was secretly pocket a pack of gum. They loudly argued with me and several other students that were trying to explain that there are minors on our campus fromt he early college program and that they were due to be walking to the cafeteria through the quad at any moment and that those pictures were inappropriate to show to minors without parental consent. We asked you to leave. WE, tuition paying students, asked you and the rest of the group to leave. We have rights that you were infringing upon with little to no regard for the consequences. Well now you are living with the consequences. Suck it up and take your punishment like a man. Personally I wish they had the legal right to expel your kids from school. We don't need students that have such a blatant disregard for their fellow students feelings in our school. The early college students have the right to get a decent education without being exposed to material that is inappropriate for their ages. You cannot play like you did not know what your "fellow protesters" were doing. If I go with a group into a store and someone pulls a gun to rob the store and shoots the clerk and I leave with them and/or continue to participate with them while they are robbing the store, I cannot go to court and say I didn't know that they would actually shoot someone with the fully loaded gun that they pulled. DUH! If they load a gun and pull it there is a high probability that they are willing to use it. If a semi-radical group of anti-abortionists that constantly attempts to get themselves arrested is protesting at your college and you hook up with them then you can fully expect that they are going to do something to get themselves arrested. If you are associated with them then you are likely to be arrested.

Meredith Eugene Hunt said...

Spydee’s comments are in quotes and my responses follow.

“None of this would be happening if you and that group had listened to the numerous students that asked you to leave before going to the instructors and administrators.”

I did not hear any students asking me to leave. I did hear a faculty member ask Mr. Dennis King, “What if my liberal friends and I staged an anti-war protest here?” King replied, “You wouldn’t be that stupid.” The students that did approach me were children of people I know.

“Do you realize that we have 15-year-old children on that campus?”

Yes, though most of the dual enrollment children are older.”

“We all asked you to go to UNC Asheville.”

No one asked me to go to UNC-A. We were at UNC-A the day before AB-Tech! Officials at UNC-A politely asked us to move to their free-speech area. The Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust considered this and decided to move because that area was right in front of the student center where there was a lot of foot traffic. Contrariwise, AB-Tech officials were hostile from the get-go. They told us to go to their “free speech area” which was in reality NOT a part of the campus. And while Victoria Road gives access to automobile traffic, there is little to no opportunity for personal interaction. Everything at UNC-A was quite peaceful as was the day after AB-Tech when we went to Blue Ridge Community College. Administrators at UNC-A were respectful to us and professional. On the other hand, AB-Tech people were angry and unprofessional.

“Your son told me that he would show the pictures to my teenager without my consent and that I did not have the right to decide what my child can and cannot see. EXCUSE ME? It was that remark that pushed me and several of my friends to go to the teachers who went to the administration for us. You were there ALL of you. Your son was involved in the argument that eventually escalated to the battery of a security officer.”

I have no knowledge of any of this. I did not witness any of this, and even if it did occur, it certainly was NOT my son. You must be thinking of the Conrad boys. My son who was arrested came on to the scene at about lunch time in-between classes. It is totally outrageous that he was arrested for quietly holding a sign. King’s bullying, condescending attitude during the meeting later with two of my sons was outrageous.

“I would love to see all of you locked up.”

Seems a little harsh.

“Respecting the parental rights of the parents of the Early College Kids, respecting my right as a student to get an education in a peaceful environment, and respecting the rights of students to request you to leave our campus is not something you did. I was there. I saw what you did. If they don't throw the book at you then maybe I will just sue you personally for disturbing my right to get a peaceful education.”

My two children and I were quietly holding signs of aborted babies. We were peaceful. What was not peaceful was your reaction to our presence. What was not peaceful was the crowd of police officers, lots of police cars and lost tempers of ABT people. It was people at AB-Tech who caused any disturbance, and even that was not so disturbing. I have been on lots of really large university campuses with the Genocide Awareness Project—42 times in fact—and seen incredibly much louder stuff happen than what was at ABT, and all of it peaceful and non-disturbing, really. At almost every school professors bring classes out to see the display. It could be a political science class, or rhetoric, or composition class, or a debate class, and many professors make assignments related to the display. Such displays like what we brought to AB-Tech can and should be a part of a college education, no matter what age the students might be. In any case, 15 years of age is not too young to see images of aborted children.

“I have to maintain my grades or I lose my financial aid and protests like yours disturb my ability to do that. I have a form of Autism called Aspergers Syndrome and having loud disturbing protests interferes with my ability to learn.”

That may be so, but knowing this, you could have avoided the presence of the Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust. It appears that you intentionally made a point to be a part of that event.

“You only care about your agenda not about the greater good. You knew what kind of group you were there with and any reasonable person would know that they could become violent. You chose to be there at the same time as this group to further your agenda. Therefore, you are guilty. If you had been there for a different reason and got pulled into the discussion as many of the students did then things would be different. You went there at the same time as this group and you knew who they were and what they stand for. Their people make it a habit to get arrested to get attention. Anyone that knows about them knows this is what they do.”

This group is not violent. All I know to the contrary is the un-challenged testimony of an obese security guard who in court clearly showed that she was hostile and outraged by the images of the aborted babies. Maybe the belly shove happened, or maybe it didn’t. I don’t know. If this was really a battery, why weren’t charges filed against the individual alleged to have done this? But in any case, for several reasons, I will never join up with an out of town group like this again.

“Please stop trying to act like all they did was secretly pocket a pack of gum. They loudly argued with me and several other students that were trying to explain that there are minors on our campus from the early college program and that they were due to be walking to the cafeteria through the quad at any moment and that those pictures were inappropriate to show to minors without parental consent. We asked you to leave. WE, tuition paying students, asked you and the rest of the group to leave. We have rights that you were infringing upon with little to no regard for the consequences.”

The pack of gum was an example. But you are terribly mistaken if you think that you have a right not to be offended. This is a college campus. It is appropriate to show images of aborted babies on a college campus. If students are earning college credit they should and will be exposed to a normal college environment where there is debate and controversy. And as I said, 15 year old is not too young. If parents send their children to a college campus, then they are giving consent to that kind of experience.

Student tuition at ABT is funded significantly by tax payers like me.

“Well now you are living with the consequences. Suck it up and take your punishment like a man. Personally I wish they had the legal right to expel your kids from school.”

I am not sure what you mean by the consequences. The punishment and consequences, while more than we deserve, is certainly not like being lined up before a firing squad. And we have filed a notice of appeal. Expel my children for engaging in free speech activity on their own campus!? Oh my. Talk about a lawsuit. And, in any case a lawsuit may be in the works as things stand. These things take time.

“We don't need students that have such a blatant disregard for their fellow students feelings in our school. The early college students have the right to get a decent education without being exposed to material that is inappropriate for their ages.”

Those people who brought images of aborted babies to the AB-Tech have such high regard for college students and faculty members that they are willing to risk arrest to do so. It is those faculty members, administrators, and other AB-Tech community people who participated in the arrest of the campus visitors who hold the students in contempt, perhaps, mistakenly, thinking they are serving them well.

“You cannot play like you did not know what your "fellow protesters" were doing. If I go with a group into a store and someone pulls a gun to rob the store and shoots the clerk and I leave with them and/or continue to participate with them while they are robbing the store, I cannot go to court and say I didn't know that they would actually shoot someone with the fully loaded gun that they pulled. DUH! If they load a gun and pull it there is a high probability that they are willing to use it. If a semi-radical group of anti-abortionists that constantly attempts to get themselves arrested is protesting at your college and you hook up with them then you can fully expect that they are going to do something to get themselves arrested. If you are associated with them then you are likely to be arrested.”

You are confusing two very important issues here. You are blurring the differences between legitimate free speech activity and the alleged assault of a security officer. From your comment it is clear that your chief complaint is exactly about what AB-Tech approved. Mr. King at one point early during that day raised his hands and said, “We believe in free speech” and then he “allowed” the “protest” to continue. And yet, you hated the “protest” (holding images of aborted babies) and think we should be locked up for that. When we (my two children and I) joined up with the Survivors, we participated only in this AB-Tech approved, legitimate free speech activity. When I had first heard about them coming to our area, I contacted the leader and the first thing I asked was, “Do you have a code of conduct?” and I asked to see it. Kortney said that they did not have a written code of conduct, but they expected each participant or member to be peaceful and non-violent. So, while we didn’t have a chance to bring this out in court, my participation with this group was entirely contingent about this understanding. And I did not hear the story of alleged belly bump until the trial on October 15th! (I will say that the Survivors do not ATTEMPT to be arrested. It’s just that in some circumstances, like when an administration is being UNREASONABLE, like at ABT, they correctly refuse to back down.) So, when we three went to the store, we went to buy something, and if someone pocketed a pack of gum, we did not know about it, or know that someone might do it, and therefore we can not be held responsible for the shoplift.

We stayed on campus, two of my college age children and I, because we believed that we had done nothing to justify being tossed off this public college campus.

Now as to a point of law. If a mob has taken over a street, like the anarchists did during the Democratic National Convention in Denver this year, and the police surround the area and order everyone out, and give adequate time for everyone to leave, the police probably have a legal right to arrest everyone who stays. However, if someone who has legitimate business in the street, like say, a news photographer, is arrested, the police should let him go afterwards and bring no charges against him. Or, a judge should later dismiss the charges. Only the rock throwers and street blockers should be prosecuted. In our case there was NOTHING like a mob. It’s just that AB-Tech over-reacted and then refused to admit that they made a mistake. Mr. King himself admitted, but not in court, that my son should not have been arrested and this will come out eventually. AB-Tech is likely afraid of a lawsuit and well they should be. Arresting one of their own students for free speech is a serious matter. They have had plenty of opportunity to negotiate with us an agreement that would be satisfactory to us all, but they stubbornly stuck to their errors. Maybe the DA’s office has been driving this truck.