New York Federal Criminal Practice Blog
March 19, 2008

NDNY Judge Addresses Issue of First Amendment Limitations on Pretrial Release Conditions

Contempt charges against a father's rights activist are the backdrop to the interesting question of the permissible limitations on a defendant's First Amendment rights that may be contained in a pretrial release order.  In United States v. Murtari, 07 CR 428 (DEP), 2008 WL 687434 (N.D.N.Y. March 11, 2008), the court acknowledged that "[w]ithout question, a defendant who is under court supervision, including based upon a conditional pretrial release order, does not necessarily forfeit all of his or her First Amendment rights."  Thus, in setting the conditions of the defendant's release, "the court was required to do so in a manner which would result in no greater intrusion upon defendant's constitutional rights, including those guaranteed under the First Amendment, than reasonably necessary in order to effectuate the objectives of the Bail Reform Act, and to additionally insure defendant's compliance with the court's order."  Unfortunately for Mr. Murtari, however, the court found that the release order both appropriately restricted his access to federal property where he had previously engaged in unauthorized protest activities, and precluded him from defacing government property with chalk.  Murtari's bond was revoked as a result of the alleged contemptuous actions, and reading between the lines of the decision, one cannot help concluding that the case involves a tragic collision between the cold letter of the law and an emotional but non-violent father in extremis.

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