The frustrating year-long process behind dismissing Louisville protester’s charges

January 1, 1975: Driven by the national drug war mania and the corresponding push to criminalize any human action imaginable, the Kentucky General Assembly enacts KRS 525.140, which can result in a 90 day sentence for someone if they “obstruct a highway “.

August 8, 2020: During Breonna Taylor Summer, my friend becomes my client after being arrested under this 1975 law. She is a tattooed, blue-haired middle-aged mom, stylist and photographer who has never had a problem before. The cop says she was “building a barricade” at 6th and Jefferson. She is detained with other protesters, taken to jail, incarcerated and released. According to the electronic records system, my client’s first hearing date is November 2 at 2 a.m. “It can’t be true,” I think. “The court does not take place at 2 o’clock in the morning”

October 29, 2020: I send an email to an attorney in the county attorney’s office who refers me to another attorney who then refers me to another attorney. I ask diplomatically, “What is this 2:00 am court date?” I received no response of any kind.

Nov 2, 2020 at 5:50 am: I receive a substantial response. “The 2:00 am file time is a place in the clerk’s office for our office to review the case. I assure you there was no role at 2 a.m. this morning. We are looking at all cases related to protesters and curfews. I will go through this one and be in touch with you.

November 3, 2020 – March 8, 2021: No one is in contact with me. Guess a decision maker in the county attorney’s office wisely decided to quietly get rid of all these ridiculous cases against peaceful protesters. I am wrong.

March 9, 2021: An invisible phantom force orders my client to appear in court. No one informs my client or me of this date. At that time, most court appearances were done through Zoom. Because we didn’t log into the right website to say “not guilty” at the right time, the court issues a warrant for my client’s “failure to appear”. This means that any contact with law enforcement will likely put her in jail until her next court date, regardless of when.

March 22, 2021: I learned of the existence of the arrest warrant for my client, who learned about it from another demonstrator who also “did not appear”. I call my friend, a well-connected, well-known and good-looking lawyer who represents another protester involved in the same incident. Same thing: arrest warrant. I put the pieces of my exploded head together and spend 15 minutes of my life writing an order getting rid of the said arrest warrant. I tell my client, who is understandably a little freaked out, to stay away from anything wearing a uniform. I don’t need to tell him that, but it reassures me.

March 23, 2021: I reflect on the fact that the religious fanatics who regularly harass people at the Louisville abortion clinic don’t get an arrest warrant, even when they don’t show up in court multiple times. I get a little drunk and yell at Handsome Lawyer how horrible everything is. He patiently listens to my drunken rant and goes back to doing Handsome Lawyer stuff.

March 30, 2021: The order canceling the arrest warrant is finally signed by the judge. A new hearing date is set. The prosecutor said to me, “I or one of the other protest prosecutors will be looking at any body camera footage from the date of the protest. [client’s] stop and determine an appropriate offer. I reflect on the implications of the need for multiple “protest prosecutors”.

April 26, 2021: The Justice Department announces an investigation into the practices of the Louisville Metro Police Department, including the mass arrests of protesters during the summer of Breonna Taylor. At this point, prosecutors in metropolitan areas across the country, including Chicago, Portland, Philadelphia and Minneapolis, have announced that they will not prosecute thousands of cases of peaceful protesters, choosing instead to focus on serious crimes.

April 29, 2021: Eight months after her arrest, my client has her first court date. She pleads not guilty. I get pictures of my client standing with furniture in the street. The furniture is painted with slogans such as “HOMES MATTER” and “EVICT RACISM”. Despite this heinous crime, no one suffered more than the inconvenience of having to drive an extra block.

June 9, 2021: I am filing a discovery request asking for everything related to my client’s case, including how the cops were tasked with handling the protesters. Handsome Lawyer and I tell prosecutors that we will oppose any trial date that occurs before the DOJ completes his investigation.

August 30, 2021: It has now been over a year since my client was arrested. No one responded to my discovery request. I learn that several other cases of protesters have been dismissed. I reach out to the county attorney to ask them both, “Where are the things you owe me?” And “Why not just dismiss this one too?” In response, the prosecutor informs me for the first time of a “standard offer” to people like my client. It goes like this: plead guilty, do 20 hours of volunteer work, then do not plead guilty and the charges will be dismissed. I’m thinking of saying, “This is a stupid waste of everybody’s time, because if you’re going to throw a case down just throw it away, don’t force people to cross a stream of bullshit just to save face.” ” I’m not saying that.

September 9, 2021: Because my client cares about bad things happening to the right people, she has already planned to volunteer with a hurricane relief organization in the South. A jury trial also carries a risk (however minimal) of imprisonment and will cost him at least another day’s work. She therefore decides to close the deal and pleads guilty. She is a convicted felon for the next two months.

November 2, 2021: Louisville legal legend Ted Shouse is suing the first protester case. The court cancels its role for the day. A few dozen people stand for jury duty. A jury is selected. Both parties made their opening statements. Then all charges are dismissed because prosecutors did not disclose any evidence.

November 9, 2021: My client’s file is finally closed. I can tell people, “They dropped the charges” and I sound like a badass TV lawyer. In the near future, my client’s charges will be removed, allowing us to indulge in the strange fiction that all of the events described above never happened.

Today: Hundreds of cases like my client’s harmless misdemeanor, many of which will go to trial, are still draining the meager resources of the Jefferson County courts. The charges, brought by an obviously corrupt police department to punish anyone peacefully protesting the shooting of an innocent woman at their home, could all be dismissed today if the county prosecutor says so. He won’t. After more than a year of this blockage in the Louisville criminal justice bathroom, perhaps it is finally time to ask: why not?

Dan Canon is a civil rights lawyer and law professor. His book “Pleading Out: How Plea Bargaining Creates a Permanent Criminal Class” is available for pre-order wherever you get your books.

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