Jurors in the Jeff Olson case in California, in which the defendant faced 13 years in prison for writing anti-big bank slogans in water soluble chalk on sidewalks, delivered a sobering smack down to the judge and the prosecution in the case.
Olson was charged with 13 counts of vandalism. The jury found the defendant not guilty on all 13 counts, according to the San Diego Reader.
The verdicts are viewed as a major victory for free speech across America. Although defacement of private property is considered vandalism under normal conditions, in this case no permanent defacement or damage to property was committed by the defendant. Olson used water soluble chalk that is easily removed with water or a good rain. And the messages were placed on public sidewalks.
Had the judge and the prosecution not engaged in clear overkill with gag orders, and a ruling that free speech or any First Amendment rights could not be mentioned by Olson’s defense, the outcome of the case could have been much different.
News reports indicate that the Bank of America pressured the city attorney’s office to bring vandalism charges against Olson, claiming that it had spent over $6000 to clean up the chalk messages.
Such a claim is hard to believe given the nature of the chalk Olson used. A hosepipe and water removes the chalk easily.
And it certainly did not help matters from a public relations standpoint for the judge in the case to slap a gag order on Olson and to side with the prosecution in barring any mention of the First Amendment right to free speech, free expression, or political speech in the defense of Olson.
As each not guilty verdict to each of the 13 charges was read out in court, it was as if the jury were sending a clear signal to the judge and the city attorney that merely bringing this case to trial was a colossal mistake. The entire circus has turned out to be a major fiasco for the city attorney’s office.
But the judge and prosecuting attorneys continued outside the courtroom to blame Olson for their embarrassing defeat. The judge felt it necessary to explain why he slapped a gag order on Olson. The attorneys for the prosecution tried to defend themselves by stating that they had offered Olson a deal that would have kept the case out of court.
The Reader, however, reported that the “deal” was actually no deal at all, at least not in the mind of the defendant. In exchange for dropping the charges of vandalism against Olson, the prosecution wanted Olson to give up his driver’s license for three years, waive all Fourth Amendment rights that guard against search and seizure, spend 32 hours of community service cleaning up graffiti around the city, attend an eight hour behavior modification class, and pay Bank of America over $6000 in restitution for its supposed clean up costs.
Olson flatly rejected such a “deal” and insisted that his case be tried in court before a jury of his peers.
One of the prosecuting attorneys appeared puzzled as to why the defendant would turn down such a “fair plea deal.”
Fair? The only thing fair about this case was when the jury delivered a stinging smack down to a rogue judge and prosecuting attorneys who obviously take a cavalier attitude toward First and Fourth Amendment citizens’ rights.
On Wednesday, July 3, 2013, The Reader will feature a major cover story on Olson’s ordeal.
Be sure to read my latest entry in the series, Musings After Midnight, titled, “Why my hope for a peaceful solution to the current mess in government has gone out the window.”
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