Charges dismissed against more legislative protesters

Posted August 12, 2014 5:44 p.m. EDT

— Trespassing charges were thrown out Tuesday against five people arrested last year during protests at the Legislative Building.

The decision by District Judge Anne Salisbury marked the second time in less than two weeks that charges were dismissed because of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Prosecutors presented evidence saying the five protesters were trespassing in the Legislative Building on July 15, 2013, when they participated in one of the weekly "Moral Monday" demonstrations.

More than 900 people were arrested last summer during a series of protests against a legislative agenda that activists said hurt poor and disadvantaged North Carolinians.

Defense attorney Scott Holmes cited a recent ruling by District Judge Joyce Hamilton that dismissed five similar cases.

Hamilton ruled those arrests were unconstitutional because they violated the protesters right to peacefully assemble and speak, and the actions of General Assembly police weren't tailored narrowly enough to deal with any disturbance in the Legislative Building.

Her decision referred to a recent Supreme Court ruling that invalidated a buffer zone Massachusetts had set up around an abortion clinic to keep anti-abortion protesters at bay.

"These folks had every right to do exactly what they did, and the way in which they were ordered to leave was unconstitutional," Holmes told Salisbury.

"The evidence is that the General Assembly was able to do business without interruption. So, it clearly didn't disturb them," Salisbury said in dismissing the charges against the protesters.

Rulings by District Court judges aren't considered precedent in legal cases and don't have to be taken into account by other judges. Still, protester Evelyn White said she hopes the fact that two different judges have ruled the same way on cases will lead to more dismissals as the scores of pending cases go to trial.

"I hope that future cases coming up are going to be able to draw on this experience," White said.

Acting Wake County District Attorney Ned Mangum said he couldn't comment on Salisbury's ruling until he reads her written order in the cases.

More "Moral Monday" trials are scheduled for Wednesday.