Friday, June 26, 2015

Brett Bursey

At another incident during a presidential visit to South Carolina, protester Brett Bursey refused an order by Secret Service agents to go to a free speech zone half-a-mile away. He was arrested and charged with trespassing by the South Carolina police. "Bursey said that he asked the policeman if 'it was the content of my sign,' and he said, 'Yes, sir, it's the content of your sign that's the problem.'"[18] However, the prosecution, led by James Strom Thurmond Jr., disputes Bursey's version of events.[26] Trespassing charges against Bursey were dropped, and Bursey was instead indicted by the federal government for violation of a federal law that allows the Secret Service to restrict access to areas visited by the president.[18] Bursey faced up to six months in prison and a US$5,000 fine.[18]After a bench trial, Bursey was convicted of the offense of trespassing, but judge Bristow Marchant deemed the offense to be relatively minor and ordered a fine of $500 be assessed, which Bursey appealed, and lost.[27] In his ruling, Marchant found that "this is not to say that the Secret Service's power to restrict the area around the President is absolute, nor does the Court find that protesters are required to go to a designated demonstration area — which was an issue in this case — as long as they do not otherwise remain in a properly restricted area."[27]
Marchant's ruling however, was criticized for three reasons:
  • The ruling found that Bursey was not the victim of selective prosecution because Bursey was the only person who had refused an order to leave the area. However, this overlooks the fact that nobody else refused to leave the zone because nobody else was asked to leave.[28]
  • The prosecution claimed that the protected zone around the President was 100 yards wide. However, it was unmarked, with cars and trucks allowed to pass through and drop off ticket-holders, and nobody was willing to tell protesters where the zone's boundaries were. Marchant's decision noted this but did not find this unreasonable.[28]
  • Marchant found that in the "age of suicide bombers", the Secret Service should have latitude to get rid of anyone suspicious who is standing near the president's route. However, given that the reason Bursey was singled out by the Secret Service was his sign, "it's enough to make anyone with a dissenting view think twice before deciding to stand out from a crowd."[28]

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