Best Of 2021

Best Win for the First Amendment: multiple judges have dismissed the charges against more than 100 defendants

Protests against the death of George Floyd and other Black citizens drew thousands in Cincinnati this summer — and a heavy police presence, with officers sometimes in riot gear and deploying pepper spray and flash-bang explosives. In the aftermath of marches on the first two nights, small groups broke windows downtown and in Clifton Heights. As a result, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley instituted several curfews, leading to the arrest of roughly 500 people on first-degree misdemeanor charges of Misconduct at Emergency — basically a curfew violation — which can result in 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Protesters and their advocates, including several attorneys, said the arrests constituted a violation of the First Amendment. The city offered several options for protesters to drop or reduce their charges, albeit with conditions. In July, Cincinnati’s Mass Defense Coalition filed a motion to dismiss the charges against all those arrested, saying the Misconduct at an Emergency charge was “used solely for the purpose of corralling people and preventing protesters from remaining on the streets and exercising their human rights protected by the First Amendment.” Since then, multiple judges have dismissed the charges against more than 100 defendants, with Judge Janaya Trotter Bratton — who dropped all 35 cases that came before her — saying that exercising your First Amendment right was considered an “essential” activity by the Ohio Department of Health during the COVID-19 shutdown and that “the curfew did not define ‘essential workers’ — who are included in the list of exempted people.”