(CN) – The 1st Circuit upheld the acquittal of a former Republican National Committee official charged with jamming phone lines during New Hampshire’s 2002 election.
The court affirmed a ruling by U.S. District Judge Stephen McAuliffe, who acquitted James Tobin of telephone harassment charges for his role in a 2002 phone-jamming scheme against New Hampshire Democrats.
Tobin had been convicted in 2005 of two counts of phone harassment for jamming the phone lines of six telephone numbers: five for Democratic Party phones and one for the Manchester firefighters’ union, which had offered free rides to the polls.
For 85 minutes, the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote lines rang continuously with hang-up calls. Republican John Sununu defeated incumbent Gov. Jeanne Shaheen for the Senate in that election.
In 2007, the 1st Circuit vacated Tobin’s conviction, saying it was unclear whether tying up a phone line indicates Tobin’s “intent to harass.”
On remand, McAuliffe wrote that he felt “constrained to conclude that Tobin is entitled to judgment of acquittal.”
The government appealed, arguing for a more lenient interpretation of the law’s “intent to harass” requirement, but the federal appeals court in Boston remained unconvinced.
“There is nothing inherently wicked or even suspect about multiple phone calls, even when the repeated phone calls and resultant ringing are annoying or distressing to someone who refuses to answer,” Judge Boudin wrote. “(W)e are not willing to construe over-generously a criminal statute to cover cases that should not be made criminal in the hope that prosecutors will exercise restraint in the interest of common sense.”