The D.C. Court of Appeals yesterday reinstated assault and rioting charges against 17 members of the Revolutionary Communist Party who were arrested during a violent demonstration near the White House in January, 1979.
In a 2-to-1 decision, the appeals panel overturned an earlier ruling by D.C. Superior Court Judge Carlisle E. Pratt dismissing the charges on grounds that prosecutors were "motiviated by vindictiveness" against the Maoist demonstrators.
The appeals court held that Pratt's finding was "without support," according to a 14-page opinion written by Judge William C. Pryor. Judge George R. Gallagher issued a two-page concurring opinion.
In a strongly worded dissenting opinion, Judge Julia Cooper Mack said: "If the rule against prosecutorial vindictiveness is to mean anything in this jurisdiction, it must be applied [in this case]."
The 17 demonstrators originally were charged in two separate indictments with 15 assault and riot counts against one group of defendants and 11 counts against the other.
In pretrial proceedings, defense lawyers had asked that the two indictments be merged so all the defendants could be tried together. In response, prosecutors had the demonstrators reindicted in a single indictment but with all the counts in the original separate indictments levied against all 17 defendants.
This had the effect of increasing the number of counts against the defendants, with potential prison sentences raised by at least 100 years for them.
Ladd B. Leavens, a Public Defender Service attorney representing the demonstrators, said yesterday's court decision will be appealed.
The indictment grew out of a wild rock-and-bottle throwing melee on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House Jan. 29, 1979, during a demonstration against the state visit of Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping. The pro-Maoist demonstrators, who oppose the present Chinese regime as "revisionist," threw bottles, sticks, lead fishing weights and other objects at police. Reporters on the scene observed both demonstrators and police clubbing each other with sticks and batons during a brief but fierce battle. Revolutionary Communist Party Chairman Bob Avakian was one of 78 demonstrators arrested and among the 17 ultimately indicted on assault and rioting charges.
The appeals court, acknowledging that the reindictment gave the appearance of government vindictiveness, held that the explanation presented by the prosecutors was sufficient to dispel claims of vindictiveness.
"This case compels a finding that the government's explanation of the reindictment, not questioned by the trial court, was adequate to negate any realistic apprehension that vindictiveness motivated the increase in charges," the majority opinion said.
In their explanation to Judge Pratt, prosecutors said since the alleged attack on the police was planned, all of the defendants "are jointly and individually responsible for each of the assaults alleged."-30-