In one of the most shocking verdicts of the last few years, a protester was convicted for laughing too hard at the confirmation hearing of Senator Jeff Sessions. However, while many people see this as nothing but an outrage, there are several important facts to remember before damning the verdict and the whole process.
On January 10, 2017, President Donald Trump's nominee for the Attorney General of the United States, Jeffrey Sessions, had a confirmation hearing at the U.S. Senate. Republican Senator Richard Shelby introduced Sessions at the hearing, saying that Sessions had an “extensive record of treating all American equally under the law.”
This statement is, indeed, laughable, and a 61-year-old protester in the gallery of the hearing room, Desiree Fairooz, laughed out loud. Her laughter – which can be heard in the sequence starting at the 1:13 mark in this video – didn't impact the hearing, but her later conduct did. Fairooz was arrested by a rookie police officer – in her second week on the job – and ended up being charged for disorderly conduct and for demonstrating inside a building on Capitol Hill.
She was subsequently convicted, making many political pundits claim Sessions was abusing his power at Attorney General by censuring dissent. However, while this might seem to be the case at first sight, there are several factors to keep in mind.
Conviction Was Handed Down by a Jury
The first thing to remember is that the conviction was given by a jury, not by a judge. The jury is a Constitutionally-guaranteed protection against just this sort of state censorship and abuse of power that so many people are claiming it represents. Additionally, this jury sat through an entire trial, where evidence both for and against a conviction was presented to them – no one else saw all of this evidence.
The Job of a Prosecutor is to Get Convictions
Another important thing to remember is that it is literally the prosecutor's job to get convictions, even if it doesn't seem like the defendant deserved it. Because we use an adversarial criminal justice system, the prosecutor role is to find all of the crimes that a suspect might possibly be guilty for, and then amass and present all of the evidence that could get a conviction. It's not the fault of the prosecutor that demonstrating inside the Senate confirmation hearing was prohibited by the laws of the District of Columbia.
Maine Criminal Defense Attorney William T. Bly
Of course, the fact that someone could be sent to jail for making a statement reeks of censorship and injustice. However, before damning everything to do with the conviction, it's important to remember that the criminal justice system in America has a lot of moving parts that offer their own set of protections, and that may be insulated from other aspects of the system.
One crucial element to this system, though, is the criminal defense attorney. By being your legal representative, your defense lawyer fights for your rights against the claims of the government that you broke the law.