Jury Finds Bank Of America Protester Not Guilty Of Vandalism For Chalk Drawings Outside BofA Branches

Last week, a San Diego man made headlines when he went on trial to face 13 counts of vandalism related to chalk drawings he’d made on sidewalks outside of Bank of America branches in the area. On Monday afternoon, the jury returned after only a few hours of deliberation with “Not Guilty” verdicts on each count.

After the verdicts were read, the San Diego City Attorney’s office criticized the defendant, saying it had offered him options that would have allowed everyone to avoid a trial.

One such offer required the defendant to perform 32 hours of community service, attend an 8-hour seminar by the “Corrective Behavior Institute,” pay Bank of America $6,299, and surrender his driver’s license for three year period.”

Shortly before the trial began, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith tried to sweeten the deal, allowing him to plead guilty to one vandalism charge, serve three years probation, pay an undetermined amount of restitution, spend 24 hours cleaning up graffiti, and surrender his driver’s license for two years.

“I didn’t see how that was fair,” the acquitted chalker told the San Diego Reader. “Why should I have to give up my license for two years and serve three year’s probation just for exercising my First Amendment rights?”

The judge in the case came under scrutiny when he ruled that the defendant and his lawyer could not even attempt to argue that the defendant was exercising his First Amendment rights in protesting the oft-maligned bank. The judge said that these were allegations of vandalism, and that the laws on vandalism don’t include any exemptions for protest.

Others had claimed that the City Attorney’s office was targeting this particular protestor because he’d targeted Bank of America, but Goldsmith denies any such motivation.

“We prosecute vandalism and theft cases regardless of who the perpetrator or victim might be,” Goldsmith explained. “We don’t decide, for example, based upon whether we like or dislike banks. That would be wrong under the law.”

San Diego’s mayor was also caught up in the hubbub surrounding the case, making public statements in defense of the accused, saying he’d done no damage and had used water-soluble chalk for his drawings.

Just how fair were those plea offers in the case of the anti-big-bank protester? [San Diego Reader]
San Diego jury finds protester not guilty in chalk-vandalism case [L.A. Times]