Saturday, September 23, 2023
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Court Throws Out Charges Against Obama Protester

(CN) - A Vermont man should not have been convicted of disorderly conduct for allegedly calling President Barack Obama and his potential supporters "terrorists" during the 2008 election campaign, the state Supreme Court ruled.

Brian Albarelli was charged in Chittenden District Court for his conduct at a voter-registration table in Burlington hosted by Vermonters for Hope. He was convicted and sentenced to four to five days on a work crew.

After approaching the table "sheepishly," Albarelli told a volunteer that he was unsure of how he would cast his vote, according to the ruling, summarizing the prosecution's evidence. Witnesses testified that Albarelli quickly changed his tone by "loudly expressing his views and accusing Obama and those who were about to register to vote of being 'terrorists,'" the court noted.

Albarelli allegedly left about 20 minutes after police arrived.

Prosecutors said Albarelli and another man returned two days later and cut off supporters from approaching the Vermonters for Hope table. Police ticketed Albarelli for disorderly conduct.

When a Chittenden jury ultimately convicted Albarelli, a judge rejected Albarelli's motion for acquittal without explanation. He appealed to the state's high court, claiming that he was wrongfully punished for exercising his free speech.

The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with Albarelli and reversed the conviction on Feb. 18.

"In the information, the state defined the behavior as 'yelling aggressively,'" Justice John Dooley wrote for the court. "However the evidence is characterized, the facts relied upon by the state, when viewed in their entirety, do not enable a jury to reasonably conclude that defendant engaged in threatening behavior ... the behavior must convey the intent to harm another person. We cannot find that defendant's actions conveyed that intent."

CORRECTION - The original version of this article recounted the events as described by the prosecution in support of their disorderly-conduct charge, but failed to attribute them as such. Courthouse News regrets the error.

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