Somebody's gotta go do it, guys. Oral argument's coming up in the Sixth Circuit.... No, we can't just dismiss the charges.
Yes, you have to do it with a straight face.
C'mon. I need a volunteer here.
Okay, then I'm just gonna pick somebody.... <scans room, everyone avoids eye contact> Jeff. You were late today, so you can handle this one. Yep. It's all you, buddy. Have fun. Break a leg.
I assume something like that happened earlier this year in connection with the case of Sister Megan Rice, the 85-year-old peace-activist nun who led a daring commando raid on the Y-12 nuclear weapons complex at Oak Ridge, and by "daring commando raid" I mean they used bolt cutters on the fence and walked in without anybody noticing. See "Government Bravely Prosecutes Nun for Embarrassing It," Lowering the Bar (Feb. 10, 2014).
And when they got to the heart of this place where we store all our weapons-grade uranium, which I again stress that they did without being noticed, they put up some banners, sang songs, and prayed. To be fair to the government, I should point out that they also threw some blood on the building and chipped some pieces off the corner of it with a hammer. Your typical terrorist stuff. When guards eventually arrived, they surrendered peacefully. The only effect on the facility was that the government shut the place down for 15 days while it tried to figure out who to blame for how to address the obvious lack of security.
For this, Rice and her two accomplices were prosecuted for sabotage; specifically, for violating 18 U.S.C. section 2155(a), which says this:
Whoever, with intent to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense of the United States, willfully injures, destroys, contaminates or infects, or attempts to so injure, destroy, contaminate or infect any national-defense material, national-defense premises, or national-defense utilities, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both....
There is no doubt they were trespassing, but that's a different issue. Under this charge, the question boils down to this: do you think that this evidence shows that these people "willfully injured national-defense premises" with the "intent to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense of the United States"?
As you can probably guess from the above, I do not. But at least two judges do, and a minimum of six jurors did, because not only was this charge allowed to go to a jury, that jury convicted the defendants and the trial judge then sentenced them to a minimum of three years in prison.
The Sixth Circuit heard their appeal in March, which is when I started writing this post. Never finished it, but since the panel has now voted 2-1 to reverse the conviction (the dissenter is the second of the two judges mentioned above), now seems like a good time to dust it off.
Originally I was going to base this entirely on the audio of the oral argument, which was available almost immediately. I listened to the whole thing and took notes, and I can tell you there was a great deal of hooting from me as I listened to Jeff Theodore, the Assistant U.S. Attorney who came in late or lost a bet or drew the short straw or whatever it was, try to argue that a nun with a tiny hammer posed a threat to the national defense of the world's only superpower.