When PINAC correspondent Michale Hoffman was arrested for trespassing on public property at Jacksonville International Airport last year, he was convinced it was a First Amendment issue.
After all, he was carrying signs criticizing the TSA and IRS while walking along the side of a public road.
But the cops told him he was trespassing and took him to jail, telling him the argument would be settled in court.
However, Duval County Judge Brent Shore forbade him from using the First Amendment as a defense during his trial, ensuring his conviction.
Prosecutors argued that the “prejudicial effect of such evidence or inference outweighs its probative value,” as you can read below.
In other words, they knew that it would be extremely difficult to convince a jury that he had committed a crime had they been informed he was exercising his First Amendment right to petition to the government before he was arrested.
As a result, prosecutors convinced the jury that Hoffman was guilty of trespassing on public property, even though they were unable to explain why he was ordered to leave in the first place.
In fact, the jury was initially deadlocked with one juror arguing that it was a First Amendment case. And at one point during deliberations, the jury sent a note to the judge, asking him if protesting on airport property was illegal.
But Judge Shore refused to respond to that question, telling the jury that they must base their decision on the evidence presented to them, which as we can see, was hand-selected by both the prosecution team and judge.
And that apparently was enough to convince the last juror that Hoffman was guilty of trespassing on public property.
Hoffman was sentenced to one year probation and one month of house arrest where he must wear an ankle monitor. He is also not allowed to step within a mile of any of Jacksonville’s airports nor is he allowed to participate in any First Amendment protests without first getting approval from the government.
The irony, of course, is obvious.
If it was not a First Amendment case, then why forbid him from participating in First Amendment protests as part of his sentence?
By then, he would have already served his probation, paid all his court costs and have had several of his rights violated by not being allowed near airports or participate in protests.
Because it was a simple misdemeanor trespassing case, the local media, at first, was not interested.
But because Chief Judge Mark Mahon, who administers the county court where Hoffman was convicted, issued an order prohibiting protesting and videography in front of the Duval County Courthouse, the local media had no choice but to get involved.
The Florida Times-Union also wrote a nice profile piece on PINAC, informing readers about this group made up of “reporter-activists” fighting the Jacksonville court system.
In addition to Hoffman’s appeal, we also have a pending lawsuit against Judge Mahon for his unconstitutional order banning videography outside the courthouse.
And finally, we are organizing a protest on Monday, July 20, to which everybody and their cameras are invited.