Hadsell Stormer Richardson & Renick, LLP filed an appeal on January 22, 2013 challenging the convictions of the ten Irvine and Riverside students found guilty in 2011 of disturbing a public meeting. Section 403 of California’s penal code makes it illegal to “willfully disturb or break up any assembly or meeting that is not unlawful in its character.” The opening brief argues that the students’ convictions are an unconstitutional violation of their right to free speech.
“The basic premise is that Section 403, as applied, makes completely lawful political speech a criminal act, and the 1st Amendment was never intended to allow that,” said HSRR’s Dan Stormer.
Specifically, the brief argues that Section 403 is unconstitutionally vague, that it discriminates between types of expressive conduct based on their content in violation of the First Amendment, and that the District Attorney failed to carry his burden of proof that the students violated Section 403, amongst other issues.
The students, all Muslim, were charged after interrupting a talk by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren in 2010. Charges against an eleventh student were later dropped as part of an agreement to do community service.
“These young people are the cream of our academic crop,” said Stormer. “The idea that you could stand up in a meeting and make a political statement and that is a crime is absolutely abhorrent to our justice system.”
Attorneys on the appeal include HSRR’s Dan Stormer, Anne Richardson and Reem Salahi, Director of Public Counsel Law Center’s appellate program, Lisa Jaskol, and criminal defense attorneys Jacqueline Goodman, Daniel Mayfield, Lisa Holder and Tarek Shawky.