The Court of Appeals in Solon v. US decided on November 29, 2018, reversed a disorderly conduct conviction as it disagreed but the trial court’s statutory interpretation.
Solon had intermingled with the Climate Movement March carrying signs in support of the administration and generally causing agitation and stir among the demonstrators. She was ultimately put under arrest and charged with disorderly conduct as well as two assault charges again two individuals.
The DC disorderly conduct statute (D.C. Code § 22-1321 (a)(1) provides: in any place open to the general public, . . . it is unlawful for a person to intentionally or recklessly act in such a manner to cause another person to be in reasonable fear that a person or property in a person’s immediate possession is likely to be harmed or taken.
Subsection (g) of the statute criminalizes interference and jostling which the defendant was not charged with. Specifically, D.C. Code § 22-1321 (g) provided: (stating in pertinent part that “[i]t is unlawful, under circumstances whereby a breach of the peace may be occasioned, to interfere with any person in any public place by jostling against the person.
The trial judge dismissed the assault charges but convicted on disorderly stating and justifying that:
- My interpretation of that is that the [g]overnment is not required to prove that these individuals who are physically rammed by Ms. Solon, were in actual fear of injury, because I would agree with Mr. Simmons, that’s not what the video depicts. These individuals don’t appear to be in fear, they don’t remain in place, but [I do] find that Ms. Solon’s actions were sufficient to prove that these actions would have created in a person of reasonable sensibility, a fear of immediate bodily harm. I do find that her actions were such and I note that not only is she seen in the video and not only did Mr. Files testify that she rammed herself up against other individuals who were present with her shoulder, but that she also is depicted in the video . . . pacing back and forth, that her general demeanor is such the level of agitation and the level of volatility that she’s displaying, that considering all of the surrounding circumstances that could have created in a person [of] reasonable sensibility a fear of immediate bodily harm.
The Court of Appeals disagreed, holding that “reasonable sensibility of a fear or immediate bodily harm is not sufficient for conviction. In order to obtain a conviction, to government has to prove that a person was put in actual fear by the defendant’s conduct. Thus decisive and dispositive evidence of fear must be present.
Here though the evidence established that the individuals on the scene were not actually afraid of Solon, the marchers’ faces were impassive, other people can be seen laughing, it was broad daylight and police were present, appellant was alone while there were many people waiting to march, some marchers or staff were following or even harassing the appellant rather than distancing themselves from her, and there was no evidence that anyone complained to Officers that they were afraid of physical harm.
The conviction was vacated and reversed.
Please refer to our DC Criminal Lawyer page for more information on this topic and other criminal charges.