The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office today dropped terrorism charges against 8 people involved in protests surrounding the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.
According to County Attorney Susan Gaertner, it’s because the state’s terrorism law “complicates the case.” She also said it was “distracting,” according to her news release:
The terrorism law, enacted by the 2002 Minnesota Legislature, provides longer sentences for felony crimes that involve premeditation and violence to persons or property and which are intended, among other things, to intimidate the public and disrupt the right of lawful assembly. In this case, however, the state’s Sentencing Guidelines provide for stayed prison sentences with jail time, fines and other sanctions as possible conditions of probation. Thus, the defendants would not face longer prison sentences if convicted under the terrorism sentencing enhancement.
(Read the full release here.)
It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for the usefulness of the law passed by the Legislature in the immediate aftermath of September 11.
“Distracting” and “complicated” are two words that weren’t uttered back when the issue was being debated.
“These are extraordinary times, and with extraordinary times come extraordinary measures,” then state-rep (now Hennepin County sheriff) Rich Stanek said. “For the last several years, the pendulum has swung greatly in favor of open meeting laws, access by the public, freedom of information, and I think that’s good to an extent, but then you have Sept. 11 roll around, and now you see the pendulum swinging the other way.”
At the time, much of the debate focused on foreigners. You may remember the controversy over issuing foreigners color-coded visa cards.
All 8 of those charged in the aftermath of the convention were white Americans. Nobody saw that coming in a case like this. Or did they?
“A charge of this nature significantly chills political speech,” Bruce Nestor, a Minneapolis attorney said after their arrest on the terrorism charges.
“We’re talking about legislation that will effect the civil rights of all people in Minnesota and, unfortunately, no one realizes or very few people realize what the extent of this legislation is,” Peter Erlinder, a professor of constitutional law at the William Mitchell College of Law, said in 2002.