Federal Judge Tosses Most Counts Against Hutaree Militia Members

Update: The judge's ruling is here. Selected quotes have been added below.

After a six week trial, a federal judge in Detroit has acquitted 7 members of the Hutaree militia group charged with terror offenses.

Only weapons charges remain against the supposed leader, David Stone and his son Joshua.

On the second anniversary of the Hutaree arrests, U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts granted a defense motion Tuesday to acquit the militia members on seven charges, including seditious conspiracy and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction. The most serious charge could have resulted in life prison sentences. She ordered the trial to continue against Hutaree leader David Stone Sr. and his son, Joshua Stone, on weapons-related charges.

Congrats to Jim Thomas, Bill Swor and the rest of the defense team. [More...]

It was a case that was "all talk and no action" built on circumstantial evidence:

The Government’s case is built largely of circumstantial evidence. While this evidence could certainly lead a rational factfinder to conclude that “something fishy” was going on, it does not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendants reached a concrete agreement to forcibly oppose the United States Government. “Although circumstantial evidence alone can support a conviction, there are times that it amounts to only a reasonable speculation and not to sufficient evidence.” Newman v. Metrish, 543 F.3d 793, 796 (6th Cir. 2008) (collecting cases); see also Wexler, 838 F.2d at 90(“The elements of a conspiracy may be proven entirely by circumstantial evidence, but each element of the offense must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.”). This is one of those times. The Court is limited by what inferences reason will allow it to draw.

More quotes:

While it is often necessary to make certain inferences from circumstantial evidence in conspiracy cases, the plethora of inferences the Government asks this Court to make are in excess of what the law allows. But, the Government crosses the line from inference to pure speculation a number of times in this case. Charges built on speculation cannot be sustained.
The prosecution is not “free to roam at large -- to shift its theory of criminality so as to take advantage of each passing vicissitude of the trial . . . .” Russell v. United States, 369 U.S. 749, 768 (1962). If the Government now admits that the plan alleged in Count I of the Indictment did not exist, then Defendants must be acquitted. The inescapable conclusion of such a tactic is that the Government recognizes that its proofs at trial failed to establish the plan described in the Indictment, so it is attempting to formulate an alternative theory of criminal liability.

The Government appears to be attempting to broaden the charges contained in Count I; yet, “after an indictment has been returned its charges may not be broadened through amendment except by the grand jury itself.” Stirone v. United States, 361 U.S. 212, 215-16 (1960). This is because defendants are entitled to have fair notice of the criminal charges against them so that they can prepare a defense. United States v. Combs, 369 F.3d 925, 935 (6th Cir. 2004).

Random points of law from the opinion:

“[C]onjecture and surmise regarding what a defendant may have intended or known is insufficient to support a conviction” in a conspiracy case. United States v. Coppin, 1 F. App’x 283, 291 (6th Cir. 2001).

....While a defendant’s participation in a conspiracy may certainly be inferred from the surrounding circumstances, Paige, 470 F.3d at 609, to sustain the seditious conspiracy charge fashioned by the Government, the Court would have to “pil[e] inference upon inference.” Ingram, 360 U.S. at 681 (1959)

...What the Government has shown, instead of a concrete agreement and plan to forcibly oppose the authority of the Government, is that most -- if not all -- of these Defendants held strong anti-Government sentiments. But the Court must not guess about what Defendants intended to do with their animosity. “The government is required to present evidence of the defendant’s intent, knowledge of and agreement to join a conspiracy.” Coppin, 1 F. App’x at 291. “Absent such evidence, the government’s case will not succeed merely because there is something ‘fishy’ about the defendant’s conduct.” Id.

...the Court would need to engage in conjecture and surmise to find sufficient evidence that Defendants “shared a ‘unity of purpose’, the intent to achieve a common goal, and an agreement to work together toward the goal.” “In the absence of evidence of the[ ] essential [conspiracy] factors, a guilty verdict on a conspiracy charge cannot be sustained.”

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  • Display: Sort:
    The FBI needs to get out of the entrapment.... (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by redwolf on Tue Mar 27, 2012 at 05:03:39 PM EST
    The FBI needs to get out of the entrapment business.  Wither it's crazy right wing Militia nuts or crazy Islamic terrorists the FBI needs to investigate and watch, not enabling and pushing people into fake terrorists attacks.

    Nonsense! America won't be safe (none / 0) (#4)
    by Mr Natural on Tue Mar 27, 2012 at 06:14:44 PM EST
    until we're all behind bars.

    The real terrorists are the DOJ incompetents who can't put us there.


    I'm (5.00 / 0) (#9)
    by lentinel on Wed Mar 28, 2012 at 06:10:05 AM EST
    afraid to think that this might be a victory for the rights of the accused.

    It's been awhile.

    When I heard this news I wondered if a Muslim (none / 0) (#1)
    by jawbone on Tue Mar 27, 2012 at 02:47:27 PM EST
    accused of something similar would -- or could-- get the same handling of similar charges.

    Am I being unfair to our judicial system? It seems to me, a lay person, that it doesn't take much to get Muslims accused of terra activities to be almost always found guilty.

    Emptywheel's take on the judge's actions: (none / 0) (#7)
    by jawbone on Tue Mar 27, 2012 at 09:56:28 PM EST
    .... Today, Judge Victoria Roberts threw out most of the charges against most of the defendants, based on her judgment that the government had based its conspiracy charges on speculation. Among those charges are the Conspiracy to Use WMD which-as I've noted in the past-was one of the few times white defendants have been charged with what is a garden variety charge against Muslim defendants who are caught in stings.

    Some of the case law Roberts relies on for her case is specific to the 6th Circuit. Nevertheless, her opinion lays out principles that would-if applied to Muslims-undermine the cases against brown terrorists are significantly as it has against these white alleged terrorists (not to mention Manssor Abrabsiar and two of the four Waffle House plotters).

    i was kind of curious about the (none / 0) (#5)
    by cpinva on Tue Mar 27, 2012 at 06:19:07 PM EST
    conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.

    charge. exactly what did they possess, or were trying to possess, that constituted what any normal person would reasonably consider a weapon of mass destruction? were these clowns trying to get a bomb or something?

    It's not really clear. (none / 0) (#6)
    by redwolf on Tue Mar 27, 2012 at 07:45:21 PM EST
    The leader of the group looked up how to make explosives on the internet, but I have yet to read of any explosives they owned beyond black powder for old civil war era guns and reloading power for their own guns (reloading to save money is very common with gun people). Both can be used to create bombs but a simple gasoline bomb would be much more effective than than a gun powder based bomb. Black powder in particular burns so slowly that it usually takes massive quantities to be effective.  

    If they had created or testing a working bomb I've yet to read about it.  Generally when you create a bomb you have to test it repeatedly to get it working correctly.  I've read that Timothy McVeigh  tested his designs for 8 months before he got it right.


    How can this possibly be? (none / 0) (#8)
    by Romberry on Wed Mar 28, 2012 at 02:37:36 AM EST
    Everyone knows that when our government says you are a terrorist, you are a terrorist. If that wasn't so, then the citizens our government has killed without charge or trial also might not be terrorists, and that's just impossible, right? Right!

    These trials are pesky things. That whole "burden of proof" and "innocent until proven guilty" shtick is so pre-9/11 and so pre-Obama. Obviously the judge is either just wrong or is a closet terrorist sympathizer, 'cause like I said, our government said these people were terrorists and the say-so of the government ought to be enough for anyone.

    Hmm (none / 0) (#10)
    by Euro News Magazine on Wed Jun 20, 2012 at 04:25:24 AM EST