In front of a packed courtroom, lawyers for eight defendants arrested during the 2008 Republican National Convention argued more than a dozen pre-trial motions before Ramsey County Judge Teresa R. Warner. The RNC 8 defendants (Luce Guillen-Givins, Max Specktor, Nathanael Secor, Eryn Trimmer, Monica Bicking, Erik Oseland, Robert Czernik and Garrett Fitzgerald) were charged with conspiracy to commit criminal damage and conspiracy to commit riot.
In December, Judge Warner granted the defendants a joint trial as opposed to eight separate trials. That decision laid the ground work for Tuesday’s marathon session.
With more than 30 supporters in the gallery, and an appearance by Sheriff Bob Fletcher, the mood was quite jovial and relaxed at the beginning. As motion after motion was debated between the two sides, tensions grew. At one point Judge Warner issued a stern reprimand to one of the defense lawyers for talking over the prosecution, An outburst of laughter and talking from some of the defendants during a particularly harsh exchange between the two sides led to Judge Warner reminding the defendants and their counsel that such actions would not be tolerated during the trial, set for October 2010.
Lawyers for the RNC 8 had submitted a range of motions, most dealing with the suppression of evidence. Additional motions alleged that prosecutors had violated the defendants’ First Amendment rights, and asked for dismissal of the case based upon discriminatory investigation and prosecution.
Following an hour-long closed door discussion with counsell, Judge Warner decided that the majority of the motions would be postponed. She set aside six days (May 3-6, and May 13-14) when witnesses could be called to testify on the motions. Witnesses had not been available to testify at Tuesday’s hearing because the motions had been filed too close to the date.
A number of the postponed motions were motions to suppress evidence found during the execution of a search warrant on the Smith Avenue “Convergence Center” in Saint Paul on August 29, 2008. In the motion, lawyers for the defendants argued that the raid was in violation of Minnesota statutes that require law enforcement to execute warrants between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. “unless the court determines on the basis of facts stated in the affidavits that a nighttime search outside those hours is necessary to prevent the loss, destruction, or removal of the objects of the search or to protect the searchers or the public.”
The defense claimed that the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department made a “generalized claim that a nighttime search was requested because ‘a search outside these hours and under the cover of darkness provides the best approach for the safety of the officers executing the warrant.’” The defense pointed out in the motion that the search warrant received by the Sheriff’s Department did not make any findings that a nighttime search was required, and provided no authorization to be executed outside the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. – yet despite this, the warrant was executed at 9:15 p.m. and, for this reason, all evidence collected should be excluded from trial.
In a separate motion, also postponed to May, the defense sought to suppress evidence found in a search of a second home on East 6th Street in Saint Paul, claiming law enforcement officers failed to obtain a warrant for the search. The defense stated in their motion that the home was under surveillance, and at the time of the search, five defendants were believed to be on the premises by law enforcement prompting the raid.
One defendant, Luce Guillen-Givins, also sought to suppress additional evidence collected during two separate incidents in 2007, an arrest by Minneapolis police and a traffic stop by Ramsey County sheriff deputies, as well as a stop and search while crossing the Canadian border in 2008. Guillen-Givins’s attorney, Jordan Kushner, argued that in each instance, police and law endorsement agents violated her rights, claiming they “specifically and discriminatorily singled her out due to her expressed political beliefs, political activities, and political associations.” Guillen-Givins’s attorney argued to have the motion postponed until May to allow for witnesses to be called. Prosecutors objected to the motion, and Judge Warner took the request under advisement.
In a second motion, Kushner requested that all charges against Guillen-Givins be dismissed, based on “discriminatory investigation and prosecution.” Guillen-Givins claimed that, based solely on her political writings and activities, the Ramsey County Sheriff’s office singled her out for an intensive undercover investigation which led to her criminal charges. Prosecutors pointed out that Guillen-Givins was not being singled out, and was in fact on trial facing the same charges as seven other defendants.
Kushner said he was happy with the outcome of the day, and that the trial would show that his clients were being prosecuted for being politically active. Mr. Kushner said that the prosecution’s case was very vague and their case was weak.
The Ramsey Country Attorney’s office was approached for comment but declined pointing out they are limited in what they can say regarding cases pending before the court.