A judge acquitted two men charged with unlawful protest for reading the Bible outside a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office in Hemet, Calif.
The judge ruled there wasn't enough evidence to prove that the two men needed to obtain a permit before reading the Bible. Police arrested the men more than a year ago after one of the individuals started reading the Bible out loud to the people standing in line waiting for the DMV to open.
A California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer grabbed the Bible from individual and handcuffed him, saying he was not allowed to preach to a captive audience. The penal code does not forbid preaching to a captive audience, so the officer claimed they were "obstructing or intimidating those attempting to carry on business." But that code also did not apply because the men were standing 40 feet from the building on public property and the DMV had not opened yet. When Advocates for Faith and Freedom filed a lawsuit against the CHP for unlawful arrest, the Riverside County District Attorney changed the charge again to trespassing on state property: "No person shall hold or conduct any demonstration or gathering in or upon any state buildings or grounds unless a permit has been issued by Department." (13 Cal Admin Code section 1860) But criminal defense attorney Nicolai Cocis, who is serving as co-counsel, said the men's actions did not match the definition of a demonstration and also argued that the law violated the First Amendment.
After the prosecutors rested their case, Cocis motioned for a directed verdict Tuesday, arguing the prosecution did not prove its case. The judge accepted the motion, saying they had insufficient proof the men conducted either a "demonstration or gathering." Nicolai Cocis said: "These men were exercising their First Amendment right of free speech. They were simply sharing their faith on public property and the criminal charges should never have been filed."
The lawsuit against the CHP for unlawful arrest will proceed.