DOJ Finally Drops Case Against Protester Who Laughed During Jeff Sessions' Confirmation Hearing

from the laughs;-lasts dept

A small bit of good news from our lol-worthy Justice Department: federal prosecutors have decided they're no longer interested in jailing someone for laughing at the Attorney General. That isn't the entirety of the story (or the dropped charges, for that matter), so here's a little background.

Back in January, Desiree Fairooz attended Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing. Statements made by a legislator provoked an unfortunate response from this pink-hatted attendee.

Fairooz, a retired children's librarian and demonstrator affiliated with the organization Code Pink, let out a laugh during a Senate hearing back in January after Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said Sessions had a “clear and well-documented” record of “treating all Americans equally under the law.” (Sessions had faced strong opposition from civil rights organizations and was rejected as a federal judge in the 1980s over concerns about his past comments on race.)

This very slight blow to Senate hearing decorum could have been ignored. Perhaps Fairooz could have been approached quietly and asked to keep her amusement to herself. Instead, a rookie Capitol police officer decided to arrest Fairooz. This led to a verbal altercation with Fairooz loudly protesting her removal from the hearing.

She was convicted in July by a jury -- but supposedly not because she laughed out loud.

Desiree Fairooz, an activist associated with the organization Code Pink, was found guilty on two counts: one for engaging in “disorderly or disruptive conduct” with the intent to disrupt congressional proceedings and a separate count for parading, demonstrating or picketing.

Several jurors who spoke with HuffPost after the verdict emphasized that they were focused on Fairooz’s actions after a rookie Capitol Police officer approached Fairooz when she laughed at Sen. Richard Shelby’s (R-Ala.) claim…

The jurors made this assertion post-conviction but the government appeared to believe laughter was enough of a crime in and of itself to justify pursuing a conviction. The judge disagreed.

[A] judge tossed out the jury’s conviction in July, finding that prosecutors had improperly argued during the trial that “laughter is enough, standing alone,” to merit a conviction. D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Robert Morin said he found it “disconcerting” that the government had explicitly argued during the trial that laughter in and of itself was enough for a guilty verdict.

But there was still more prosecuting to be done, apparently. Fairooz rejected the government's offer of a plea deal, which would have required her to plead guilty to laughing at a legislator and/or disrupting the proceedings. So the government decided it would take another swing at securing a conviction. Maybe this was just a ploy to push Fairooz into an unforced error -- accepting the previously-rejected plea deal. Whatever the case, the government has now decided it's through trying to prosecute laughter.

Justice Department prosecutors have dropped their case against a woman who laughed at now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearing. Desiree Fairooz was scheduled to face trial for a second time next week, but a DOJ prosecutor entered a nolle prosequi filing in the case on Monday indicating the department is dismissing the charges.

The DOJ is wise to do this. It has plenty of other ways to waste taxpayer dollars that won't so closely resemble punishing free speech. (Uh... scratch that last part.) It also would have had an uphill battle arguing its case in front a judge who already determined Fairooz's laughter couldn't be used as part of the prosecution's case. And if the laughter couldn't be used to justify the officer's arrest and removal of Fairooz, then it would be extremely difficult to claim the ensuing disruption was itself a criminal act. The hasty decision of a rookie Capitol cop pretty much defeats that line of reasoning by tainting the arrest itself. With nowhere else to go and faced with an arrestee unwilling to cave, the DOJ has decided to exit this debacle as gracefully as possible.


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  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 4:10am

    You're joking right?

    I think it's really too bad that the judge didn't just laugh loud and long when they brought the case in. It would have made everyone feel better. Except for the officer and the prosecutor, they might have been embarrassed, but then they should have been.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 4:30am

    Worth noting in re Sessions

    He perjured himself in this hearing, and everyone knows it. He's being summoned back to Congress and will likely -- hopefully -- face some stiff questioning.

    I hope that someone has the forethought to reserve a front-row seat for Fairooz.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 3:52pm

      Re: Worth noting in re Sessions

      > will likely -- hopefully -- face some stiff questioning.

      Oh deary me! How shall Jefferson Benedict Arnold Beauregard Sessions survive such an onslaught?


      When the Ds retake the majority the retribution for the Rs' cowardly and venal abrogation of their patriotic duty is going to be brutal, bruuu-tal. May Sessions be the first Attorney General to serve time in prison.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Bergman (profile), 9 Nov 2017 @ 6:49am

        Re: Re: Worth noting in re Sessions

        Contempt of Congress is still in the law books. It's rarely used these days, but it's still there. Sessions could well spend time on the wrong side of the bars in his own jail if he's not careful.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Capt ICE Enforcer, 8 Nov 2017 @ 4:58am

    My child was right.

    Wow, I guess there is a thing called the Fun Police...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ThaumaTechnician (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 5:52am

    Why wasn't Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) charged..

    ..with “inciting disorderly or disruptive conduct” by his assertion about Sessions?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    McGyver (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 6:11am

    If laughter is the best medicine, then someone has to control it and overcharge for it... You can't just be laughing out loud for free...?
    In this case look at the harm it did to poor Jeff Sessions...
    He'll never be the same... I bet he wakes up at night in a cold sweat thinking of that laughter.
    What we need is for the Republicans to set up a task force to understand this laugher crisis and how it is unsettling our wise and benevolent leaders...
    They should first ask Hollywood or Disney to write the laws on this so we care be sure it's fair and doesn't disrupt their profit margins...
    Then they should go after all unlicensed comics and and funny people that instigate wonton merriment and destructive humor.
    We'll then need a well funded Bureau of Laughter, Humor and Levity to be immediately set up to control this problem.
    Think of the children.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AHOY, 8 Nov 2017 @ 6:17am

    All i have to say is

    HA HA HA

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 6:27am

    Not really funny...

    The problem here is that these charges were even able to be brought. This poor woman just had her life terrorized by a thin skinned bureaucrat with a "funny hat dictator" complex.

    It's almost enough for me to reconsider my comment that the democrats deserve the likes of trump and hit dirt bag henchmen in office, but this is what happens when you keep playing the party game.

    I swear you repukes and demtards so utterly fucking deserve each other! Sadly the rest of us sane fucks have to deal with you insane fucking fucks cancelling out our votes and calling us the idiots while you install these looney tunes!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 6:34am

      Re: Not really funny...

      Third party for thirty years and counting... still no joy in Mudville.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 11:24am

        Third parties

        We really need election reform against first-past-the-post elections, as they make even good third-party candidates merely a spoiler for the main-party candidate to which they're most similar.

        The problem is, of course, that our two parties control when reform happens.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Cult Of Personality, 8 Nov 2017 @ 11:57am

        Re: Re: Not really funny...

        I would like to see issues appear on the ballot.

        I wonder why some are really against finding out what their constituents actually think.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 10:41am

      Re: Not really funny...

      Can filing frivolous charges get an attorney and/or attorney general disbarred?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 6:30am

    It has plenty of other ways to waste taxpayer dollars that won't so closely resemble punishing free speech.

    It was a stupid case, but it didn't waste taxpayer dollars.

    Does anyone think that if this case didn't happen we wouldn't be paying a judge, a prosecutor or others to investigate this? With no case, those people still get paid. We still have to pay for the courthouse, the electricity, the heating and cooling.

    No tax dollars were wasted outside of most of what the government does is a waste, which is why smaller government is the way we should be going.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Oblate (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 6:34am

      Re:

      There is the opportunity cost in that those people could have (theoretically) been doing something useful with the time instead wasted on this case.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 6:36am

      Re:

      I guess the "standard" reply to that is if they weren't going after a little old lady for laughing, they could be working on REAL crimes instead. The waste is in them not getting the actual criminals off the street... you know, let that criminal Sessions.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 7:07am

        Re: Re:

        Well, maybe if they didn't waste time on bullshit cases like this, we could reduce the number of judges, number of prosecutors and investigators, sell some court houses.

        Yeah, that isn't happening.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 10:42am

      Re:

      Not sure how it was not a waste of taxpayer dollars.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      ryuugami, 8 Nov 2017 @ 11:08am

      Re:

      Does anyone think that if this case didn't happen we wouldn't be paying a judge, a prosecutor or others to investigate this? With no case, those people still get paid. We still have to pay for the courthouse, the electricity, the heating and cooling.

      Broken Window Fallacy

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 7:33am

    She shouldn't let it go. Here's hoping she sues the DOJ with help from ppl like the ACLU to create good precedents to avoid such idiocy in the future.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Richard M (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 8:41am

    Burying the Lead...

    "She was convicted in July by a jury"

    While thin skinned politicians and out of control cops are a problem the real problem is that over and over juries in this country are backing up all the stupidity that the Govt and its representatives engage in.

    Even in the few instances where cops are brought up on charges the juries let them get away with outright murder.

    Until juries stop backing up cops and the Govt when they overstep it is not going to stop.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 9:20am

      Re: Burying the Lead...

      Part of the problem is that jury selection weeds out the people who might decide a case based on what is right. They SPECIFICALLY ask if you can judge a case based purely on what they say the law says, not what you feel it should be. At least, the last time I was in jury selection, that was one of the criteria they used to weed out those undesirable jurors. We weren't even allowed a law dictionary - any questions as to the law would be written down and answered by the judge.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Groaker (profile), 9 Nov 2017 @ 5:05am

        Re: Re: Burying the Lead...

        The law is the law. Arrest a person for laughter, an involuntary exposition. But allow strategized perjury? That makes sense.

        The real culprit here (besides Sessions) is the officer who turned a trivial exegesis into a nationwide interruption of the pursuit of justice.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 10:16am

    She was convicted in July by a jury.

    Here's where changed from laughing to disorderly: "Fairooz loudly protesting her removal from the hearing."

    SHE should have gone quietly. Several hundred people were disrupted by this woman, besides gave you barbarians a "cause" for further uncivilized behavior.

    AND directly related: Techdirt acts on that very principle, can't even tolerate a little bit of silent text to be glanced over, but must "hide" dissent! What masnocrits.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 10:44am

      Re: She was convicted in July by a jury.

      "SHE should have gone quietly."

      Is this your advice to anyone enduring similar outrageous behavior?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      ryuugami, 8 Nov 2017 @ 11:03am

      Re: She was convicted in July by a jury.

      Oh look, an idiot. An authoritarian idiot.

      The one who caused the disruption was not the woman, but the cop who arrested her for no reason whatsoever. No, a chuckle is not a reason for arrest.

      You should move to Saudi Arabia. They have exactly the amount of freedom you like. But hurry! At the pace they're going, in another decade or so even they will be far too liberal for you.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 11:28am

      Re: She was convicted in July by a jury.

      Why won’t you take your own advise and go, quietly or otherwise?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 6:28pm

      Re: She was convicted in July by a jury.

      There once was an out of the blue
      Who hated the process of due
      Each film that he'd paid
      Was DMCAed
      And shoved up his ass with a screw

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 3:17pm

    Or that "you lie" dickhead during Pres. Obama's SotU

    Functionally I see no difference.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 8 Nov 2017 @ 7:29pm

    Does Jeff Sessions look like Gollum?

    I think she could be beheaded in Turkey for pointing it out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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