Attempts by the Kings Bay break-in defendants to essentially relitigate their pretrial arguments in front of a jury took a significant hit Friday when U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood sustained objections and granted motions from the U.S. Attorney’s Office while generally denying defendants’ motions relating to the matter.
Notably, Wood sustained prosecutors’ objections to the defendants notices of intent to use the defense of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 1st Amendment defenses and intent to raise the defense of necessity, along with the defense that possession of nuclear weapons was illegal under U.S. law as war crimes and genocide.
The defendants and several called experts testified at length regarding these arguments in prior pretrial hearings on their motions to dismiss.
“The 8th Circuit (U.S. Court of Appeals) noted the compelling governmental interest and least restrictive means inquiries under RFRA are ‘questions of law,’ and once those issues were resolved by the district court, it was proper to prohibit the defendant from relitigating the issues before the jury…,” Wood wrote. “Similarly, the 11th Circuit has concluded that whether the RFRA applies is a ‘pure question of law’ and that ‘determination of pure questions of law in criminal cases are not the province of the jury.’”
She stated that because the court made its determination on RFRA defense as a matter of law, the defendants can’t raise it at trial.
As for the 1st Amendment defense of free exercise of religion, she wrote that the “defense cannot prevail where RFRA defense fails, as it does in this case.” Wood ruled the free speech defense is also out because “Military bases, however, are typically not public fora and cannot be ‘regarded or designated as a place open to public speech activities.’ … Thus, military officials ‘may impose regulations on speech as long as the regulations are reasonable and content-neutral.’”
Quoting the a similar decision in the 1994 case out of the Northern District of Florida, U.S. v. Hill, Wood explained why she sustained the objection to the defendants’ necessity defense.
She wrote, “Protestors such as the defendants in this case ‘are not entitled to present a necessity defense because of the lack of a casual connection between their illegal methods of protest and the results they seek. Also, the harm they seek to prevent, while possible, is not “imminent.” That is, nuclear warfare is possible because nuclear weapons exist, but protestors could not prove that nuclear weapons would be used in the immediate future, or that they would ever be used.’ …
“Defendants have not presented evidence that unlawfully entering Kings Bay would result in nuclear disarmament or that this country will use nuclear weapons at any imminent time.”
The defendants can, however, present evidence to the lethality of nuclear weapons and their presence at Kings Bay, as the court ruled against a motion by the federal attorneys to exclude such evidence. Wood stated the defense is only blocked from offering such evidence in support of a necessity defense.
Jury selection begins Monday at 9 a.m. at the federal courthouse in Brunswick.