Fifteen months after their arrests, the eight activists accused of plotting to violently disrupt the 2008 Republican National Convention finally have an idea of how their pending trial will take shape. In line with the hopes of the RNC 8, it will be a single trial – not eight separate proceedings, as the state had initially planned.
Each of the RNC 8 defendants faces two felony charges: conspiracy to damage property in the first degree and conspiracy to riot in the second degree. Previously, prosecutors added terrorism enhancements to the charges under the controversial PATRIOT Act. The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office has since dropped those charges.
The defendants have advocated for a joint trial since the beginning, despite the state’s warnings that it could be cumbersome and logistically problematic.
For example, the defendant arrested first was taken into custody days before police arrested the eighth one. This means evidence seized at that later point could be used against someone who was already in jail at the time it was collected.
But the defendants and their lawyers argued that separate trials would present more serious threats to the justice system. The court would likely draw out the proceedings considerably longer, and require the same witnesses to testify about the same information up to an unwieldy eight times. Aside from redundancy, publicity surrounding the early trials could unjustly affect juries and decisions in later ones, the defense has said.
More fundamentally, the RNC 8 contends the nature of the charges leveled against them, which are all conspiracy charges, means that they are being tried for activities engaged in as a group.
“That’s pretty huge for us, to be able to have one trial,” RNC 8 defendant Rob Czernik said. “[Judge Teresa Warner] fortunately ruled overall pretty favorable for us.”
Warner had 90 days to rule on the matter, and several others, following a half-day hearing in early October packed with motions from the eight-lawyer defense counsel and prosecutors. Late last week, she released a 25-page ruling citing the legal rationale behind her decision.
Other decisions included that the defense team would not get access to specific personnel information about undercover informants who kept the RNC 8 under surveillance prior to their arrests.
Still, RNC 8 member Czernik defined the joint-trial decision as the biggest victory that could’ve come out of Warner’s ruling.
“We’re pretty excited,” he said. “We’ve been asking for the joinder from the beginning, so it’s great to get that.”
The RNC 8 defendants are due back in court sometime in February to handle additional motions and possibly set a trial date.