San Francisco Bay Guardian
By Yael Chanoff
February 10, 2012
The first Occupy Oakland protester to allegedly be in violation of a stay-away order has a hearing today.
Joseph Briones, 30, was arrested along with 408 others at an Occupy Oakland protest Jan. 28. He is one of 12 who were apparently issued the restraining orders, and is therefore barred from being within 300 yards of Oakland City Hall, potentially for the next three years, according to Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Teresa Drenick.
But based on a Feb. 8 hearing, Briones and his lawyer understood that he did not have a stay-away order against him, said Occupy Oakland media committee member Omar Yassin.
“That’s why he was at the plaza, carefree, on Wednesday,” said Yassin. That’s when Briones was arrested.
In a Feb. 9 press release, Officer Johnna Watson of Oakland Police media relations said that “Joseph Briones is one of four individuals charged with a violent felony offense stemming from the Jan. 28 protest.” But according to records at the District Attorney’s office, that’s incorrect; Briones is charged with three misdemeanors.
While everyone scrambles to get their story straight, Briones is still in jail. He has a hearing at 2 o’ clock today. If found to have violated a stay-away order, he could face six months in prison.
So far, Briones is legally innocent of any crime; he has not been convicted of any of the charges leveled on him in connection with Jan. 28. None of the other 11 who are prohibited from going near City Hall have been convicted of anything either.
Besides all that, the stay-away orders may be entirely illegal.
According to Jivaka Candappa, one of the attorneys working on the stay-away order cases, “the orders are unconstitutional and unreasonable.”
Most of the charges on the twelve are as benign as blocking the sidewalk and remaining at the scene of a riot (the latter is the same charge that was placed on hundreds who were cited and released with no bail, and whose charges will likely be dropped—including me.) Even the felony charges, such as assault of a police officer, are common charges leveled on protesters that are usually dismissed. It is highly unusual to ban individuals from any public place, for any reason, let alone City Hall and a public plaza so obviously necessary for access to First Amendment rights, under any circumstances.
“This is legitimate action in, for example, a domestic violence situation. Here, protesters have not attacked anybody and they’re not a physical threat,” said attorney Mike Flynn, president of the San Francisco chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.
Candappa says that he and his colleagues may file motions in the Alameda County Superior Court challenging constitutionality of the stay-away orders.
Said Candappa, “preventing someone from exercising their First Amendment rights doesn’t promote public safety. Courts are very reluctant to restrain someone’s expressive rights, because it’s really a cornerstone of any democracy and if you want to be able to participate in democracy you’ve got to have a right to express yourself. To take away that fundamental right to express yourself is something courts are very reluctant to do, especially when those conditions are applied against someone who has not yet been convicted.”
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I wouldn’t consider my case closed without providing feedback about how Mr. Candappa stepped in and saved me from an unbelievable nightmare. At that time, I lived 600 hundred miles away and was tempted to plead guilty just to eliminate repeat court appearances. Fortunately, Mr. Candappa came to my rescue, advising me that if I was not guilty of any crime then I should not be tempted to plea bargain. Mr. Candappa did such a good job that the judge dismissed the case and overruled one of the other judge’s earlier rulings.- R.N.
The Oakland Institute is an independent policy think tank that focuses on increasing public participation and fair debate on critical food and agriculture, poverty and international development issues. Our successful campaigns in the U.S. and abroad, especially on the topic of international land deals, have resulted in threats of legal action. The thoroughness, timely response, and attentiveness to every detail by our legal counsel, Jivaka Candappa, allows us to continue with our mission without operating from a place of fear. In this struggle of David vs. Goliath, Jivaka Candappa's legal support is an invaluable asset to us!- Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director
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