On January 20, 2017, thousands of concerned citizens took to the streets of the District of Columbia to protest the incoming presidential administration. More than 200 people were arrested after a smaller number of people engaged in property destruction in the vicinity of Franklin Square. Among those arrested were journalists, legal observers, and others who did not participate in the destruction of property. However, the U.S. government prosecuted over 200 demonstrators for being members of a criminal conspiracy to riot.
In October 2017, we filed an amicus brief in support of several motions filed by the first J20 Defendants on trial. Our motion described the important First Amendment implications of this prosecution, and described the history and application of a doctrine called strictissimi juris, which applies in cases where the government is prosecuting individuals based on their presence or membership in a larger group engaged in both protected First Amendment activity as well as unlawful conduct. In essence, this doctrine requires courts to apply their existing evidentiary and procedural rules in the strictest manner, in order to ensure that individuals who only intended to lawfully exercise their First Amendment rights are not wrongfully convicted based on guilt by association. Doing so ensures that the line between unlawful conduct and protected First Amendment expression and association is upheld, and that individuals are not chilled from exercising their rights for fear of criminal prosecution based on the actions of a few.