The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday overturned the conviction of a man who peacefully protested against police violence on I-94, following the shooting death of Philando Castile.
On July 9, 2016, about 1,500 people marched on I-94 in response to Castile’s shooting death by police.
Traffic already had ground to a halt when Jeffrey Berger – a peaceful, non-violent protester - stepped onto the interstate. He was one of 47 people charged, but the only one who went to trial.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota appealed his misdemeanor public nuisance conviction, arguing that the statute is unconstitutional, too vague and that there was insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction.
On Monday, the Appeals Court agreed and overturned Berger’s conviction. While the court didn’t address the constitutional question, it said the state failed to prove that Berger personally violated the statute.
“We’re pleased by the decision,” said attorney Pari McGarraugh. “Although we think that we have strong constitutional arguments here, this is a strike back against the prosecutorial approach of guilt by association. This decision means the statute is much less likely to be used as a bludgeon against collective action. It protects people protesting in groups because it requires individual proof.”
“Jeffrey Berger was rounded up in a mass arrest during a protest,” said ACLU-MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson. “The state wanted to subject him to group punishment and chill his freedom of speech, even though they didn’t have the evidence to prove he had committed a crime. This decision will hopefully prevent that type of government overreach in the future.”
Berger said he was happy about the decision.
"If it makes it a little more difficult for authorities to prosecute people for political action, that’s a good thing," Berger said. "It increases the cost of suppressing political dissent. The important thing is for them to deal with the problems that are causing the protests in the first place, the police killings of people of color. It's part of the racist nature of our society that we have to take care of because it’s destroying us."
Attorneys on the case are Pari I. McGarraugh, Kevin C. Riach and Jacob P. Harris of Fredrikson & Byron; and Teresa Nelson of the ACLU-MN.
The ACLU-MN is a non-profit organization that works to defend the civil liberties of all Minnesotans. Learn more at www.aclu-mn.org.