Prosecutors overstepped when they argued to a jury that a woman could be convicted of disorderly and disruptive conduct for laughing during Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing, a judge ruled on Friday. The Huffington Post reported that Chief Judge Robert E. Morin of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia overturned Desiree Fairooz’s conviction for disrupting that hearing, which she was pulled out of when she laughed at a comment praising Sessions’ civil rights record.
As she was made to leave, Fairooz began to loudly criticize Sessions and the removal. But her initial arrest was based on her laughing at Sen. Richard Shelby’s statement that the now-Attorney General’s “extensive record of treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented.”
In 1986, Sessions was denied a federal judgeship over accusations of racism. At the time, Coretta Scott King sent a letter to Congress urging that Sessions not be confirmed because “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.”
More from the Huffington Post:
Morin said it was “disconcerting” that the government made the case in closing arguments that the laughter in and of itself was sufficient. “The court is concerned about the government’s theory,” Morin said.
He said the laughter “would not be sufficient” to submit the case to the jury, and said the government hadn’t made clear before the trial that it intended to make that argument.
Although jurors told the Huffington Post after the trial that Fairooz was convicted for her behavior after her removal and not her laughter, Morin reportedly told the court that nobody could know why the jury made its decision and that these interviews were not admissible for the court to consider.
Fairooz’s attorney Sam Bogash argued that because the initial arrest was not justified and because the subsequent disruptive behavior was simply a reaction to the unjustified arrest, the conviction was not justified. “Ms. Fairooz’s brief reflexive burst of noise, be it laughter or an audible gasp, clearly cannot sustain a conviction for either of the counts in the information,” Bogash wrote in a court filing. “So the only other basis for her conviction to anything are her statements after the U.S. Capitol Police arrested her for that laughing. Those statements merely expressed surprise at being arrested.”
The judge set a new trial date for Sept. 1, but a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia would not tell Huffington Post whether or not they would retry the case.